Review: Camilla Ceder – Babylon

One of the great strengths of Scandinavian crime fiction is the way it routinely juxtaposes the narratives of the criminal investigations alongside descriptions of the personal lives of both police and victims. In the writings of Camilla Lackberg, Mari Jungstedt and Hakan Nesser, for example, we are told as much about the personal relationships of the characters as the course of the investigation. It’s a motif that I enjoy but recently I have been wondering if in some books, it can overshadow the crime element to the detriment of the narrative.

In Camilla Ceder’s latest book, Babylon, Inspector Christian Tell investigates the shooting in Gothenburg of Ann-Marie Karpov, a renowned professor of archaeology and her lover, and student, Henrik. The immediate suspect is Henrik’s deceived partner, Rebecca, who has a history of jealousy and violence towards her former lovers. However, when Rebecca’s apartment is ransacked, it is clear that thieves are looking for something that they are prepared to kill to obtain.

I enjoyed Ceder’s first book, Frozen Moment, not least because she created two very interesting principal characters, the policeman Christian Tell and the journalist Seja Lundberg who were given separate narratives that only came together towards the end of the book. In this second novel, a vast amount of the content is given to the dissection of the dynamics between the two characters who have begun a relationship, and in particular Christian’s fear of commitment and Seja’s continual attempts to act as peacemaker. As the author also works in counselling and social work, it is clearly an area of interest for her but I did feel it spoilt the narrative a little for me. I’d have preferred if it had taken a lesser role, such as in a secondary plot line focussing on policewoman Karin Beckman who finds herself pregnant by her ex-husband. I felt this worked much better.

The murder investigation, when it was allowed to get going was actually very interesting and focused on stolen antiquities that were taken from Iraq during the fall of Sadam Hussein. The sections in the past set Istanbul in particular accurately evoked the heat and confusion of the Turkish city. I think Camilla Ceder is an interesting writer but if her books continue to place a huge amount on the personal, I suspect that they won’t be for me.

I bought my copy of the book.

13 thoughts on “Review: Camilla Ceder – Babylon

  1. I liked this one more than you – I didn’t feel that the Christian-Seja dynamics overwhelmed it & quite liked the continuing development of the police characters. I enjoyed this more than other Swedish crime novels I’ve read over the past few months. But, as ever, the diversity of tastes is always interesting to read about!


    1. Thanks Maxine. I could see from your October summary that you enjoyed this book. As you say, it’s the diversity of opinion that makes reviewing and blogging so interesting.


  2. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – I’ll admit I’ve not read this yet, but you make a really interesting point about the need for balance between the mystery/crime and personal narratives. Personal narrative can add to a novel, flesh out characters and so on, but it defeats its purpose if it overshadows the story.


    1. Agreed Margot. It is a very delicate balance. I’m not sure if I’m going to read any more of Ceder’s books but I can understand how they appeal to other readers.


  3. You certainly are a good resource for information on Scandinavian mystery authors. I may have mentioned this before, but 2013 is going to be my year to add more Scandinavian authors to my reading. I bought Death in a Cold Climate by Forshaw after reading about it on your blog. In eBook form to read on the airplane on a long flight. I like to read mystery reference almost as much as mystery fiction.

    I see your point about the focus on the personal relationships. I noted that a lot of Lackberg’s first book was like that, and am not sure what future books in that series will be like. Maybe it depends on the author as to whether it works or not.


    1. I’ve dipped into the Forshaw book a number of times Tracy and it is very informative. I don’t know you liked mystery reference. I have an old copy of HRF Keating’s ‘Whodunnit’ which my Mum bought for me as a teenager. Have you read it?


      1. I have not read that one, although I have his ‘Crime and Mystery: The Hundred Best Books’. I have another one with the same name (‘Whodunnit’) by Rosemary Herbert (Oxford Univ. Press). I have ‘Bloody Murder’ (also known by other titles) by Julian Symons, but have only read bits of that.


  4. Good review. This doesn’t sound like the kind of mystery I would enjoy (being a typical bloke I find pages and pages of personal angst tedious and couldn’t care less what the detective had for breakfast – so I don’t read much Scandinavian fiction!).


    1. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I’m somewhere in between, I do like to read about characters personal lives but there needs to be a good balance. Have you tried Jo Nesbo? He is very popular and some of the early books eg ‘The Redbreast’ are very good indeed.


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