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Tuesday 5 August 2014

‘Babylon’ by Camilla Ceder

Translated by Marlaine Delargy
Published by Phoenix in paperback 
15 August 2013.
ISBN: 978 1 7802 2097 0

Translated fiction can be harder to engage with than the kind written in the author’s mother tongue; a lot depends on the quality of the translation. Marlaine Delargy’s interpretation of Camilla Ceder’s Babylon is crisp, fluent and idiomatic: one of the best I’ve encountered. If it wasn’t for the setting and characters’ names, I would have thought I was reading native English.

It’s set in Sweden, and Scandinavian crime fiction has a reputation for being set in a grey, rather depressing landscape; Camilla Ceder may be about to change that. Gothenburg and its environs in spring and early summer has its bad weather moments, but so do most places, and there’s plenty of sunshine and beautiful surroundings to strike a balance. The setting is one of the novel’s strengths, and though it’s far less dour than we’ve come to expect from Scandinavian authors, the characters do agonize quite a lot, along the lines of ‘where is my life going?’ and ‘what am I doing here?’ In fact the plot movement is often put on hold for a chapter or two while the investigating detective explores his feelings for his girlfriend and vice versa, and the domestic backgrounds and personality traits of various other characters are illustrated. The result, inevitably, is that the action doesn’t exactly zip along.

The plot itself is a game of two halves. A man and a woman are shot dead, and the man’s pathologically jealous girlfriend is cleared of suspicion almost immediately when a burglary points towards a connection with antiques smuggling; then the investigation veers off in an entirely different direction.

If your taste in crime fiction leans towards pace and action, this book probably isn’t for you. If you’re a fan of the Scandinavian sub-genre and prefer plenty of landscape and delving deep into the characters, than add Camilla Ceder to your list of authors to sample.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Camilla Ceder was born in 1976. She studied Social Science and Psychotherapy, and besides being an author she also works in counselling and social work. She made her debut in 2008 with Frozen Moment, introducing the weary yet charming Police Inspector Christian Tell. This unusual crime novel, which exposes the bleak Swedish countryside as utterly atmospheric, distinguished Ceder from the pack of contemporary Swedish crime writers. Ceder brings new perspectives to the Swedish crime genre. She empathizes with her characters more than the crimes that they commit (or investigate), and the social and mental mechanisms of the southwestern countryside have become her turf.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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