Keeper, by Johana Gustawsson – book review

KEEPER COVER COVER AW.jpegWe welcome the Keeper blog tour today and frankly I find this novel confounding. It takes several themes we’ve seen before but in mixing them up finds something that is somehow fresh. It is heavy in its subject matter and in its plot, but also light in its language. It is clever, and informed, but doesn’t make huge demands of its readers – though they might need a strong stomach. The language is vivid and stylish and I assume that means that Maxim Jakubowski has done a good job in translating the novel from its original French.

There’s a series of murders in Sweden that cause a serial killer’s campaign (previously closed: the perp’s in Broadmoor) to be looked at again. The police think there are links to Jack the Ripper’s MO. There are also links to the family of one of the Ripper’s victims, into the present day. This can be difficult for a writer to pull off (think of The Damned Utd) because you’re not always sure what is truth and what is created specially. But Keeper pulls it off, peppered as it is with obscure historical facts and references such as the shout out to the Victorian artist Richard Dadd.

There’s a bit where a pimply young lady is beastly to Freda, a key character, and I wonder whether Gustawsson is making a comparison to the tone of present-day social media. Actually, there are more universal observations though the plot is (happily) far from universal. As different characters are assaulted and abused by people who think they are morally better, I’m reminded of the current misogynistic hatred practised by those who describe themselves as ‘incel’. But let’s face it, the incel are just this month’s bunch of inadequates seeking to hide their abuse and hatred behind a mask of self-righteousness. I think Gustawsson’s careful depiction of Richard Hemfield – the man previously convicted as a serial killer – is skilfully done: she allows other characters to advocate on his behalf without ever allowing the reader to think that what he has done can in any way be normalised. Instead, we have strong female voices – Freda, Julianne the victim, and Emily Roy and Alexis Castells, an excellent double act for whom Keeper is a second outing. They are super creations, multi-layered and accessible. By contrast most of the male characters are idiots. Olofsson in particular needs a good talking to.

This is not a gentle read: it’s physically and psychologically violent and at times verges on horror. The twist at the end was nowhere near where I was expecting but I think it’s earned. This is a good yarn, told by someone who understands what makes a great story.

You can get Keeper here.

Johana Gustawsson has contributed to The Secret Library.

And so has Maxim Jakubowski.

Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy. Please don’t forget to check out some of the other blogs taking part in the tour.

FINAL Keeper blog poster 2018.jpg


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