Written by Camilla Ceder — Readers and publishers alike are eager to discover the ‘next big thing’ in Scandinavian crime fiction. Will this story of love, jealousy and the trade in stolen cultural artefacts be what they’re looking for?
Two lovers are shot dead in a flat in Gothenburg, Sweden. The woman, Ann-Marie Karpov, was a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Archaeology, while the man, Henrik, was her student. Henrik’s girlfriend Rebecca has a history of possessive jealousy, stalker-ish habits and was moreover seen outside the flat that night. When Henrik and Rebecca’s flat gets burgled, the police discover a much more complicated affair, involving precious artefacts from Iraq and various events that occurred on a field trip to Istanbul three years earlier. With university friends trying to keep the love affair secret, and Karpov’s ex-husband also involved in archaeology, Inspector Christian Tell has no shortage of lies and half-truths to untangle. He pursues leads both false and real across Sweden and Denmark before he gets to the bottom of this mystery.
The book is the second in a series featuring Tell and his colleagues – the first one was called Frozen Moment – but it can be read as a standalone, although there are a few references to the previous case. There is much to like in the book. It is a good, solid police procedural, but with an additional layer of psychology. The author gives motivation not just to the main characters, but to the secondary ones as well. While this may add to the complexity of the novel, it does also occasionally derail the narrative. There are times when the descriptions of Henrik as a drifter without much purpose or Seja’s friend Hanna, a single mum registered too sick to work, sound like a rant about the over-generous Sweidsh social welfare system.
The characters are realistic and interesting. Tell is younger, more charming and less grumpy than Wallander, but he is suspicious of his new boss and reluctant to commit to his girlfriend Seja. There are at least two other members of the team who have the potential to become lead characters in further books in the series: Beckman, the determined single mother, and Karlsberg, who thinks no woman would look at him twice. So much of the book is written from the point of view of Seja and such fuss is made of the remote forest location where she chooses to live, that I was expecting a kidnapping or murder to take place there sooner or later.
The author has been compared to Jo Nesbo or Henning Mankell, but on the strength of this book alone, don’t hold your breath. Still, Babylon is an interesting foray into the world of stolen art and a welcome new addition to the Scandinavian crime canon.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
CFL Rating: 3 Stars