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.