Posted: July 11, 2011 in review, Sweden

Ake Melkersson is having trouble with his car. He seeks help along a lonely country road outside Gothenburg where he has a vague memory there is a garage near one of the farms. When he gets there he finds a body. The victim has been shot in the head and then run over by a large vehicle, his lower body has been completely crushed. Ake goes back to the crossroads and phones his young neighbour Seja Lundberg to accompany him to the murder site because he is so rattled and upset.

Seja is a trainee journalist and intrigued by the murder she claims to have been with Ake when he discovered the body. 

The victim is garage mechanic, and part time photographer, Lars Waltz, who is the second husband of the owner, Lise-Lott Edell. The crime is investigated by Inspector Christian Tell, and his team of detectives. Tell immediately spots that Seja has lied about discovering the body, but he unwisely becomes involved with this attractive woman. 

A separate back story beginning 13 years earlier in 1993 follows the life of Maya Granith, a young girl with a very disturbed mother, Solveig, and a younger brother Sebastian. Maya leaves home and goes to study at Stensjo Folk High School, where she becomes involved with Caroline, the caretaker. When Maya returns home to rebuild her relationship with her mother, it leads to tragedy. 

When a second brutal murder occurs using the same method, Tell is baffled as to what the connection is between the two victims.

Frozen Moment is Camilla Ceder’s debut novel, and has been translated by  Marlaine Delargy who also translates Johan Theorin and Asa Larsson’s novels. I read the first 100 pages and although I was enjoying it switched to reading Devil’s Peak on my Kindle [while we were away] and came back to it later. Perhaps this was a mistake on my part and why I found Frozen Moment to be a curate’s egg of a novel. I enjoyed the 2006 story and all the details about the detectives, Christian Tell, the older grumpy Bengt Barneflod, Karin Beckman, and her marital problems, Andreas Karlberg, and the “young prince” Michael Gonzales. There is a lot of compelling detail in the book including social commentary about the struggles of families in the countryside with farms and small businesses, the story of Seja’s rejection by her former boyfriend, and tales of teenage rebellion and angst. Are there too many side stories about peripheral characters? Not when they contain brilliant comments about Swedish society.

It wouldn’t have been difficult to get some woman from town to paint herself a romantic picture of a country kitchen and a herb garden, working herself up until she would have married the devil himself. But to get hold of a woman who would roll up her sleeves and throw herself into her work without going on about equality and self-fulfilment, that was tricky.

Unfortunately I thought the 1990s back story held up the narrative, and I found it a bit dense and turgid. Are there now too many back stories in crime fiction? 

I did not really warm to Christian Tell, who seemed very self centered in that he did not know anything about his long time boss Ann-Christine Ostergren, and like many fictional male detectives has serious relationship problems. The front cover blurb states Move over Wallander but I hope that in future books Camilla Ceder writes more about the team in the style of  Sjowall/Wahloo rather than too much wallowing in Henning Mankell type introspection. Frozen Moment has the potential to develop into a good series, and hopefully the very uptight Tell will eventually thaw out.

Tell bit his tongue in order to avoid saying what he really thought, namely that Beckman’s job wasn’t to act as some kind of therapist, but to ask the questions that could help them find the murderer as quickly as possible.  

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – I’ve done the same thing – interrupted one book to read another – and I think doing that has affected my thinking about the book I interrupted. I tend to be less caught up in a story when I do that unless the novel is very, very good. That said, though, I think there is such a thing as too many side stories, and dense backstory can be a hurdle, too. So even if you hadn’t interrupted your reading, it’s possible that you would have minded those things. Thanks for this well-written and thoughtful review.

  2. I think this is a pretty fair summary of the book Norman, I liked but didn’t love it, though am willing to give the next one a go. I thought the book started and ended well but the middle was a bit woolly.

    With all my various reading options (paper, eReader, audio, now an iPad on which I can read kindle books) I am getting much better at having several books on the go at once as I tend to choose the right device for the circumstances, but I agree it can be hard to interrupt a book and come back to it, especially if it is a period of several days or longer

  3. Maxine says:

    Sorry you did not like it as much as me. I agree it was a book of many parts and I think the author will mature and get very very good indeed on this evidence. I did not like Tell much but I found him realistic. I didn;’t like the woman protag much at first but I grew to like her as the book went on. I really loved all the atmosphere and descriptions of the land, way of life, isolated little houses away from the mainstream, etc.

    • Norman says:

      Maxine perhaps in my working life I have known too much about my colleagues. Tell’s lack of interest in his boss Ostergren seemed strange to me.
      I did like the descriptive passages and the details about the lives of people on the land, but some of the plot was predictably depressing. I suppose that is realistic, life is hard.
      Leighton Gage described Brazil as a very rich country with a lot of very poor people living in it. I wonder if Sweden is a very rich country with a lot of very depressed people in it. Thanks very much for your tweet.

      • Maxine says:

        I think life has become tough for many even in the once-nirvana (unless you believe Sjowall and Wahloo!) of Sweden, no more volvo etc, economic crises.My source is mainly crime fiction, though!

  4. Norman says:

    Maxine, I occasionally go to this site for Swedish news in English. It frequently confirms the view that all is not well within the former socialist utopia.

  5. […] Norm reviews Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment at Crime Scraps and wonders if mysteries today aren’t indulging in a bit too much backstory. If the review had to be summarized in one syllable, it might be “m’eh.” Meanwhile, update your RSS feeds, as Crime Scraps has finalized its divorce from Blogger. […]

  6. hannah black says:

    I read it because it was a gift. I thought it was really bad. She was always telling us not showing us and really, although it was never going to be good, a thorough editing may have helped it. I do hope the author is a better counsellor than she is a writer. I don’t know how it ever got published.

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