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.

Camilla Ceder – Frozen Moment

One of the strengths of Scandinavian crime fiction is the role that the landscape plays in shaping the narrative. In some of the strongest crime novels coming from Scandinavia, including Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice and Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, isolated communities, and the secrets buried within them, are at the heart of the plotting. This theme is continued in Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment where a crime committed fifteen years earlier is revisited  and atoned in the present day.

It is December in a small town in the Gothenburg region and a local garage owner has been shot in the head and then repeatedly run over by a car. Inspector Christian Tell is called in to investigate the strange killing which may have its origins in a local family feud. When a second man is killed in similar circumstances however, Tell has to look beyond the confines of the community and try and link the two murders.

Local journalist Seja Lundberg is attracted to Inspector Tell but has her own secrets. She recognises the first victim and slowly becomes aware that events of fifteen years earlier play a key role in the crime. She must then try to resolve her own involvement in the case with her burgeoning relationship with Tell. He in the meantime is uncomfortable at becoming involved with a witness and finally realise that Seja knows more than she is revealing.

This was a very interesting, albeit slow read where the isolated, icy community dominated the narrative descriptions. I had a strong visual sense of the landscape and the isolation felt by those in such a small community. Another strength of the book was the relationship between Christian and Seja, two older people who have had their share of failed relationships but are attempting to develop something new.

The crime story was well plotted although the parallel story of Maya Granith, set in 1993 I found less interesting. The fact that it was narrated from the victim’s point of view meant that it was a shock when she was killed although this did mean her personality hung over the subsequent narrative .

I found the book an interesting, slowly unfolding read which stayed with me for a long time. I thought the translation by Marlaine Delargy was excellent and am looking forward to future books by this writer.

The book has also been reviewed at the Nordic Book Blog, Reactions to Reading and Eurocrime.