Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
There are drawbacks to being paranoid and suspicious almost as troubling as being a stalker. Not only do the doubts make you unhappy and sleepless, but when you try to resolve your doubts by peering through your errant boyfriend’s letterbox in the middle of the night you leave fingerprints that make the police wonder if you were not the one who murdered him and his mistress. After all, their deaths and your visit were within an hour of each other according to more trustworthy witnesses.
Don’t think that you are alone in being troubled. When you come home from the police station and find your house trashed you might not realise that that unwelcome visit was due to someone’s desire to help. Admittedly, they were trying to help the unfortunate dead woman, not you, but I think you can take it that in Camilla Ceder’s world no one gets what they want. Not straight away – they have to work on it.
Ceder’s detective, Inspector Christian Tell of the Gothenberg police, returns after his first appearance in last year’s Frozen Moment. In other authors this would be a police procedural, perhaps a detective story with clues picked up, but Ceder has already developed her own style, strongly related to her work outside writing – she is a psychotherapeutic counsellor – and she develops her story through the dynamics of personal conflict. Inspector Tell is deciding whether to settle down with his journalist girlfriend, Seja; while Seja is challenging Tell to become a more rounded person, at work he is having to come to terms with a new boss and a new management style; one of his team is learning to live as a single mother while her son wants his father back at home; Rebecca Nykvist, the moonlight letterbox lifter, already in therapy, is realising that Henrik, her lover, is a vacillating waste of space, and a two-timer; Henrik has become reliant on his university friend to give him alibis to cover his playing-away. I’d better stop there, this is a review, not a list and I am not going to itemise all the relationships that play a part in the novel. Equally, let me tell you that Ceder is clever enough not to give everything away too soon. There will be more death. There will be more discovery.
Some readers of Frozen Moment rejected it because of the strong emphasis on relationships; on one person challenging the other to be something else, and their difficulties in changing, or even realising that they might want to change, as if Camilla Ceder’s style is too Nordic, too bleak, too like Ingmar Bergman, and as far as writing goes placing too little emphasis on plotting or planting clues. Babylon appears to repeat that. However, once you accept that the strangled conversations and broken communions replace plotting with narrative and dialogue you become aware that Ceder is advancing her story in a different way, and the clues are there, and they are picked up by the police investigation. Then, finally, the murderer is the one who has a fake relationship, which ties the crime back to the psychodynamics of the whole book. That means I give Babylon a thumbs up, though I cannot see myself wanting to read a series written in this style.