Book review: Frozen Moment, by Camilla Ceder

4 04 2018

Camilla Ceder is a Swedish counsellor, social worker, and crime fiction novelist. She has written two crime novels, both available in English translation, featuring Inspector Christian Tell of Göteborg CID as principal protagonist; I’ve previously reviewed the second of those books, Babylon, here.

FrozenMoment

Frozen Moment (Fruset Ögonblick, 2009, translated by Marlaine Delargy) is Ceder’s first novel, and follows the investigation of Tell and his team into the murder of Lars Waltz, a middle-aged backroads car mechanic of no identifiable notoriety or wealth. Waltz has been fatally shot at point-blank range and has then been gratuitously driven over repeatedly in a four-wheel drive or similar vehicle. There’s no discernible reason why anybody (other than, perhaps, his ex-wife) would want this man dead, and yet someone was sufficiently motivated to not just kill him but to make of his murder scene a gruesome spectacle. The case attracts the attention of journalism student Seja Lundberg, who’s on the scene early when she drives her elderly neighbour Åke (who first found the body) back to the workshop so he can be interviewed by police at the scene. Seja’s ongoing curiosity about the murder has two effects: it makes her a suspect in the crime, and it leads to an awkwardly burgeoning relationship with Tell, who knows he should know better than to get involved with a witness and possibly a perpetrator …

The characterisation in Frozen Moment is a definite selling point for the book. Ceder has a hugely impressive ability to capture the tells, idiosyncracies, foibles, and unspoken insecurities of a broad range of characters, which are expressed with clarity and candour. Alongside a diversity of witnesses and suspects, the components of Tell’s team are all wrought as distinct individuals, their interactions both credibly mundane and revealing. This psychological depth adds urgency and weight to a story which—other than in its brutal means of murder—does not otherwise place undue emphasis on heightened tension (though there is, usefully, a natural escalation as the story progresses to its close). This is a superior example of the Scandinavian crime novel, which satisfies more novelistic characteristics than just word count, and it’s easily good enough to rue the fact that Ceder’s output to date has been only the two books. If what you look for in a crime novel is truly getting inside the heads of the characters, then you owe it to yourself to read this one (and its successor, Babylon).

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Book review: Babylon, by Camilla Ceder

13 03 2017

Camilla Ceder is a Swedish social worker and writer, based in Göteborg, who has to date written two crime novels and, more recently, several children’s books.

Babylon

Babylon (Babylon, 2010, translated by Marlaine Delargy) is Ceder’s second crime novel; like the first, Frozen Moment, it’s set in and around Ceder’s home turf of Göteborg and is headed up by Inspector Christian Tell.

Rebecca Nykvist is a care-home worker with longstanding anger issues directed against the men in her life. Her current partner, Henrik Samuelsson, is an archaeology student who is having an affair with his tutor, Ann-Marie Karpov. So when Henrik and Ann-Marie are summarily executed late one night, by a visitor to Ann-Marie’s apartment, it’s only natural that Rebecca, who has just that night learnt of Henrik’s duplicity, should emerge as a prime suspect for the double murder, particularly when it’s established that she had visited the apartment on the night in question. But Rebecca swears her innocence, and when her own home is systematically ransacked by burglars apparently seeking items other than the conventional targets of jewellery and high-end gadgetry, it begins to appear that the murders may not have been motivated by simple jealousy …

This is an intriguing novel with sophisticated and detailed characterisation: there’s quite a bit of head-hopping, but Ceder gives enough individuality to each of the players that the frequent changes of perspective don’t usually become disorienting, and the various protagonists grapple with realistic human problems as well as the complexities and trials of the ongoing investigation. (The title Babylon can satisfactorily be interpreted on at least two levels, the literal location and the metaphorical tower of miscommunication, both of which are contextually appropriate.) There’s so much character development that, at times, it threatens to overwhelm the novel’s crime core, particularly in the sequences that deal with Tell’s romantic interest Seja Lundberg, a journalist whose connection to the investigation is incidental at most: I suppose this plays into the reputation that Scandinavian crime fiction has for social commentary, but it would seem churlish to expect a writer trained in social work and psychotherapy to eschew such explorations into the human psyche. I would also argue that the quality of Ceder’s writing is a saving grace and further argue that, while the novel is in places a little sedate in its pacing, it remains interesting. (And the pace does pick up quite markedly towards the end.) It helps, too, that the story which emerges is one with considerable currency—indeed, its relevance has arguably been increased by events which have occurred on the geopolitical scene within the seven years since the book was first published.

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, and I’ll be watching with interest to see whether Ceder returns to crime fiction; I hope she does.