‘Although the characters who live and die in these pages are the figment of my writerly imagination, the experiences they endure are rooted in the terrible truth of a dark, dark chapter in Spanish history’
– Johana Gustawsson, author of Blood Song
[ About the Book – Blood Song ]
Spain, 1938: The country is wracked by civil war, and as Valencia falls to Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Republican Teresa witnesses the murders of her family. Captured and sent to the notorious Las Ventas women’s prison, Teresa gives birth to a daughter who is forcibly taken from her.
Falkenberg, Sweden, 2016: A wealthy family is found savagely murdered in their luxurious home. Discovering that her parents have been slaughtered, Aliénor Lindbergh, a new recruit to the UK’s Scotland Yard, rushes back to Sweden and finds her hometown rocked by the massacre.
Profiler Emily Roy joins forces with Aliénor and her colleague, true-crime writer Alexis Castells, and they soon find themselves on the trail of a monstrous and prolific killer, in an investigation that takes them from the Swedish fertility clinics of the present day back to the terror of Franco’s rule, and the horrifying events that took place in Spanish orphanages under its rule….
Terrifying, vivid and recounted at breakneck speed, Blood Song is not only a riveting thriller and an examination of corruption in the fertility industry, but a shocking reminder of the atrocities of Spain’s dictatorship, in the latest, stunning installment in the award-winning Roy & Castells series.
[ My Thoughts ]
Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson is book 3 in the award-winning and critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, featuring profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells. Having read and been blown away by Block 46 and Keeper, I was wary about Blood Song. Could it live up to my very high expectations? Already released by Orenda Books in digital format, it will be available in paperback from 19th September 2019. I have to mention and thank David Warriner, the incredible translator who brings alive to us all the amazing storytelling of Johana Gustawsson. In partnership with the Orenda powerhouse that is Karen Sullivan, they have brought an incredible novel to our door.
Blood Song is described as ‘a terrifying, vivid and riveting serial killer thriller that sweeps from modern-day London to Sweden, and back into the past, to the shocking atrocities of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain…’ And do you know what, that’s EXACTLY what it is. Johana Gustawsson manages to combine two top genres, historical fiction and crime, and weaves the most complex, shocking and truly terrifying stories around them.
For folk who may not be aware of the scale of the atrocities under Franco’s regime, Johana Gustawsson has included an author’s note citing some very hard-hitting numbers recounting the heinous crimes committed under Franco’s dictatorship. The death toll will never be known as mass graves have since been unearthed, exposing more of the horror inflicted upon a nation during this reign of terror.
‘The nature of the conflict was what made this dark time in Spain’s past particularly terrifying. This intense and bloody episode of Spanish history saw some of the worst human atrocities imaginable: one people with two political ideologies opposing one another, first with arms, before the ‘victors’ subjected the ‘victims’ to their fierce repression – giving thousands of torturers and executioners the power of life or death over strangers, neighbours, friends, fathers and brothers’
– Johana Gustawsson, Author’s Note
Block 46 visually transported the reader back to Buchenwald, 1944. Blood Song visually transports the reader back to Spain, 1938. The powers that Franco holds over Church and State means that nobody is safe. A word spoken to the wrong person could mean torture and death. Life for many in Spain became a living hell and for those who survived, it left very painful and bitter memories. Teresa, a Republican, witnesses these horrors first hand and is eventually sent to Las Ventas prison in Madrid, at one point home to approximately 11,000 female prisoners, in a space designed for 500. Teresa is subjected to terrible barbarity while in prison, eventually giving birth to her daughter, a girl she would never see grow up.
Johana Gustawsson paints very vividly the treatment of these women during those merciless years, also recounting the horrors witnessed by these women before and during their incarceration in Las Ventas. The pain inflicted carried through the generations, damaging the minds of many who survived.
2016 and the Lindberg estate in Falkenberg, Sweden becomes the scene of a murderous rampage, as a mother, father and daughter are brutally slaughtered in their sleep. With no rhyme or reason to this horrifying murder, the local police are stymied. When the connection is made to Aliénor Lindbergh, a new recruit to the UK’s Scotland Yard, profiler Emily Roy is immediately installed on the case. Aliénor works with Emily Roy and her team and is understandably traumatised, upset and confused as to why anyone would choose to butcher her family.
The team make their way to Falkenberg in the hope of unearthing the truth before the killer strikes again. Alexis Castells joins Emily Roy as the duo reunite and trace leads back to 1930s Spain, to Franco’s Spain. Also incorporated into this story is a frightening narrative about the activity of fertility clinics and the lives impacted. Using her own difficult experiences with fertility clinics, Johana Gustawsson’s personal insight into the challenges faced by many, brings yet another convincing edge to Blood Song.
I read Blood Song in one day. I simply could not and would not put it down. I tweeted immediately on finishing it. I was shattered.
The historical element will always a swing a book for me but Johana Gustawsson takes it to a new level. Perhaps it’s her passion for writing such incredible stories, perhaps it’s the depths her mind can travel down to, into such dark places. But one thing is certain it’s personal. Johana Gustawsson’s grandfather, Simon Lagunas, was a survivor of Buchenwald and one of many courageous individuals involved in the resistance within the camp and there is more…
‘This is a book that sits very close to home, even more than Block 46. First of all because it talks about the Spanish people and their struggles, whose blood pulses through my own veins. My maternal grandmother was Catalan by birth and Valencian by heart, and my paternal grandfather fought for the International Brigades to try and save the Spanish Republic before being deported to the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp – whose story I told in Block 46.’
– Johana Gustawsson
Blood Song is quite a malevolent tale, strengthened by the history behind it. It is dark, at times gruesome with some very frightening and horribly vivid accounts of those very dark years in Spain. Roy & Castells are a perfect partnership, not without their own difficulties in life. As a team they are a very credible combination, which all adds to the thrill of the story, as they tackle this macabre of cases.
Blood Song is a harrowing novel. Yes it is a crime thriller but it is also much more than that. By drawing on her own personal story, Johana Gustawsson brings an authenticity to her writing depicting historical events with a chilling insight and a very skilled pen.
Blood Song is brutal. It is gripping. It is enthralling. It is an incredibly compelling and heartrending novel. Highly recommend.
P.S. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production. Now THAT is just bloody brilliant news!!!
[ Bio ]
Born in Marseille, France, and with a degree in Political Science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French and Spanish press and television. Her critically acclaimed Roy & Castells series, including Block 46, Keeper and, soon to be published, Blood Song, has won the Plume d’Argent, Balai de la découverte, Balai d’Or and Prix Marseillais du Polar awards, and is now published in nineteen countries. A TV adaptation is currently underway in a French, Swedish and UK co-production.
Johana lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.
Twitter – @JoGustawsson