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BABYLON
by Camilla Ceder and Marlaine Delargy, trans.
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, September 2012
292 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0297866702


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Inspector Christian Tell and his team, all of whom appear to have their own problems, with issues such as commitment or authority, must solve the killing of a respected university lecturer and her younger student and lover. At first the crime appears straightforward, the man's girlfriend is in therapy for violent jealousy, witnesses put her at the scene and her fingerprints are found. But when their suspect's flat is burgled while she is in custody, Tell starts to have doubts. As the team gradually uncover the truth behind the dead couple's relationship, her archaeologist former husband, drug-addled Danish criminals and Turkish black market dealers disposing of priceless artefacts stolen from Iraqi museums during the occupation of Baghdad all come into the investigation.

An introductory quote defining envy, jealousy and greed from Melanie Klein, the Austrian-born British psychoanalyst who developed therapeutic techniques that had an impact on child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis, tells readers everything they need to know about the plot. How she develops this thesis is Camilla Ceder's strength.

The crime side of the story is both believable and well-developed, but is little more than a peg on which Ceder hangs the personal relationships that are the real heart of this story. The fiercely independent Tell, approaching middle age, struggles to resolve his commitment difficulties with a younger girlfriend, who must also overcome her own problems. One of his detectives discovers she is pregnant and the father is a man she left years before. Another finds it difficult to overcome his bashfulness around women. The youngest of his team is desperate to earn his place and the veteran struggles to adjust to modern policing practice. The dead couple both have their insecurities - the young lover in particular is self-centred, glib and shallow, apparently driven by little more than greed and self-aggrandisement as do their friends and colleagues which are developed in a series of flashbacks which build gradually to a not too unpredictable climax.

Running through the book are the key themes from the introduction: envy, jealousy and greed.

Whether this is a genuine crime novel or a psychological story with a criminal background entirely depends on the reader's own viewpoint. It is certainly cleverly and sympathetically written and some of the personality insights into the characters are minor masterpieces. Ceder has undoubtedly made an impact on the genre, but having explored so many of the human emotions, it is difficult to predict where she will go from here.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, November 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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