Publisher: Orenda Books
“MURDER! MURDER! There’s been a murder!” the anguished cry echoes through the stinking, fog heavy streets of London. A policeman appears, blowing his whistle as you strain to see what is causing the commotion. There, lying in the filthy street, is the eviscerated corpse of a blurb….
“Whitechapel, 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror.
London, 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets murders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before.
Falkenberg, Sweden, 2015: a woman’s body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims. With the man arrested for the Tower Hamlets crimes already locked up, do the new killings mean he has a dangerous accomplice, or is a copy-cat serial killer on the loose?
Profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells again find themselves drawn into an intriguing case, with personal links that turn their world upside down.”
When I first read Johana’s debut novel, Block 46, I was blown away. My ghast was so flabbered that I sat in stunned silence after I finished the last sentence (you can read what I thought in my review here). I’m not ashamed to say that it moved me to tears. In the pub. In front of other actual people, people who didn’t know me from Adam and were probably wondering if they should discretely move to another table. It was a truly outstanding piece of fiction and I was left wondering whether Jo could repeat this with her second book, Keeper.
Oh, sorry, I got distracted there for a second. I just saw a badger going…..anyway, where was I? Oh yes…
Well, the answer is a resounding oui from me!
Keeper is the second in the Roy and Castells series and a welcome return to our favourite Canadian profiler/French true-crime writer crime busting duo.
(NB: not, if you’re of an age like wot I am, the Roy Castle series, about a tap dancing, trumpet playing, 70s/80s TV presenter, entertainer and all round awesome dude:
No, not him. If you were expecting that then I’m sorry to disappoint you.)
As with Block 46, Keeper is a story told over two separate time periods: one rooted in the past and slowly creeping towards the present day; the other set in the present and dealing with the after-effects of those past events. Following me? Good.
Our story starts in 1888 in London during the reign of terror that Jack the Ripper was holding over the city. We meet Freda, a young Swedish immigrant looking, as were so many at the time, for a better life for herself. She finds herself becoming friends with a prostitute named Liz Stride and living in Whitechapel, not the nicest part of London at that time. She is surrounded by death and deprivation, and that’s without the Ripper going around bumping women off in his own gruesome fashion. It’s safe to say that things haven’t gone exactly as Freda had hoped that they would when she left Sweden. But soon she finds herself in service to a wealthy Lord and Lady and things begin to look up for her.
For a while.
I don’t want to give too much away about Freda’s journey and that of her offspring, but it is truly heartbreaking to see what she becomes. Poor little innocent Freda, so full of hope when she arrived in London, is truly broken by the societal “norms” of the time and of the bigotry and sheer nastiness of people who believe that they are ‘better’ than others.
If I’m honest, from the blurb I was expecting more of the book to be set in 1888, but we move fairly quickly along the time line following Freda and her family into the 20th Century and up to the present day. Like Block 46 before it, Keeper deals with the devastating effects and tragic consequences that a traumatic upbringing and circumstances can have on the future generations. Ok, not everyone would react and behave as the characters in Keeper do of course, but that would make for a pretty dull story, huh?
Our present day story details the investigation into the death of a young woman who is found murdered and mutilated next to a lake in Sweden. The method of her death and her injuries are exactly the same as the notorious Tower Hamlets killer who murdered 6 women in London several years earlier. The trouble is that the man accused of, trialled and subsequently found guilty of those killings, Richard Hemfield, is currently locked away in Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital. You see the problem here? Yeah, it’s a proper dilemma for our intrepid detectives as they begin to question whether they have imprisoned the wrong guy and the real killer is still out there and is starting to kill all over again.
As mentioned earlier, Keeper sees the return of Canadian profiler Emily Roy and true crime writer Alexis Castells. It’s been several weeks since the events of Block 46 concluded, and our duo have been busying themselves getting on with their lives. Emily is called in by Met Police Chief Leland Hartgrove to investigate the disappearance of family friend and famous movie star Julianne Bell. Julianne was last seen getting into her car and driving off to a TV interview, but it wasn’t her who was driving, and she never arrived to the interview. So who kidnapped her and why? Is she still alive? Well, yes, but we know that because we see her side of the story. Sadly, the detectives don’t have a copy of this book so they have to find out the hard way. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if one of them went to the library and had a flick through: “Got it! Page 345, the *identity redacted* did it!” Hurrah, champagne corks pop and cheers all round for a case well solved.
But then Emily discovers something that links Julianne’s kidnapping to the Tower Hamlets murders and to the death in Sweden and shit doth kicketh off…..dun…dun…dunnnnnnn! BIA Roy, yes she is still saddled with that awkward moniker (it stands for Behavioural Investigative Officer, btw. Trips off of the tongue that one, eh?), is immediately on the case in her own inimitable style. I really like Emily. She’s direct and to the point, to the point of rudeness at times (as new character Karla Hansen observes when asked by her husband if she’s “pleasant”: ‘No. Abrupt. Borderline rude and disagreeable. But with that brain of hers, I’ll forgive all her sins.’), but she also shows great compassion and tenderness when speaking to the relatives of those who are missing or dead. In Keeper we are introduced to another Emily-like character; the hard to pronounce student of Criminal Law and Legal Psychology, Aliénor Lindberg. She has Asperger syndrome and although fiercely intelligent she also takes everything literally (Such as in this exchange between herself and Commissionar Bergström on their first encounter: The commissioner looked around at the untidy office. ‘Aren’t you worried you’ll get bored working with us after your year as a trainee with the public prosecutor’s office?’ ‘Eleven months.’ ‘Excuse me?’ ‘My traineeship with Hans Møller lasted eleven months. No, I won’t be bored.’ Lennart Bergström covered his mouth with his hand, trying to hide his laughter. Aliénor was unsure whether she should laugh as well. She chose not to. It was safer that way. Besides, it might have been a yawn he was trying to stifle.), and is compelled to follow routines and tasks that she sets for herself. Aliénor is awesome. I loved her and I hope we see more of her in future books.
Alexis Castells meanwhile is basking in the glory of securing a deal to publish a book on the case from Block 46. She celebrates this momentous occasion with a coffee atop Primrose Hill. Sadly for her her chuffedness is ruined by Emily Roy meeting up with her and telling her that they are reopening the Tower Hamlets case; a case which has strong emotional and personal ties to Alexis. Alexis and Emily have hardly spoken since the events of Block 46, but that is mostly due to Emily’s aloofness and distant personality than any falling out between the two of them. This case thrusts them back together again, but will it also tear their fragile friendship apart? Ooh, will it? You know what to do….*cough*readthebook*cough*.
Aside from the new characters we are also reunited with some old faves from Block 46 such as Swedish police Kommissionar Lennart Bergström; DCS Jack Pearce; Alexis’s boyfriend and ex-poilceman Stellan Eklund; and the overconfident, womanising but fun Kristian Olofsson.
Aside from being a story of horrific brutality and historic murder and abuse, Keeper is also surprisingly filthy. Yes, that’s right, you did read me correctly: filthy. There is some proper sexy time in here (cue cheap 80s porn movie music *boom chacka wow wow*. I’m guessing here, obviously. Is it getting warm in here? It feels like it’s getting warm in here. Oh look, a badger wrestling a shrew…*runs away*). I’m telling ya, after reading some passages I felt like I needed a cold shower and a cigarette. And I don’t smoke. Or take cold showers. You may want to ask for this book to be given to you in a plain brown paper bag if you buy it at a physical bookshop. #justsaying 😉
A special mention has to go to Maxim Jakubowski for the translation of Keeper. I always wonder how much of the original story is changed or lost in translated literature. I’m guessing it’s next to nothing in a properly handled translation, but we do have to trust that the tone and original intentions of the author are preserved. In Keeper, it reads so naturally that I completely forget that is wasn’t originally written in English at all. Translators are the forgotten heroes of foreign literature. If it wasn’t for Maxim (and Victoria Cribb, Quentin Bates, Karl Dickson et al), I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Keeper or Block 46 at all, so I thank you 🙂
Keeper is a superbly crafted, tense, intelligent and ingeniously plotted thriller. It’s peppered with great characters both old and new, likeable, lovable and downright fucking evil and disturbing. Seriously, take Richard Hemfield for instance, the man serving time for the Tower Hamlets murders. Jesus, in Hemfield, Johana has written a truly sickening individual. His meet and greet with Alexis makes for some very disturbing and uncomfortable reading. Eww Jo, just, eww!
There is no more that I can say about this book other than you should buy it! If you haven’t read Block 46 then go and read that first. It doesn’t matter story wise, but it’ll give you a splendid introduction to our cast and set you up nicely for the wonder that is Keeper. Johana is a remarkable talent in my opinion, she writes with passion, brilliance, intelligence and she’s far, far too clever for her own good. I cannot wait to read more of her writing and for the further adventures of Roy and Castells.
Highly Recommended (like – Olympus Mons levels).