Sunday, 5 February 2017

Clinch - Martin Holmen

This is real winner, which I happened upon by signing up to the Pushkin Press newsletter.
Holmen brings something radically new to Nordic Noir - a period piece set in the early days of classic American Noir. Genius!

Harry Kvist is a down-at-heel former boxer in Stockholm 1932. His main source of income is repossessing bicycles from renters out of funds. The Great Depression in Stockholm is excruciatingly hard. The streets are full of tramps and madmen. Envious eyes are cast at the rise of Hitler's Nazis, who seem to herald a resurgence of the common man.

One December night Harry accepts an out-of-town commission to go and collect a debt from one Zetterburg. Harry strong-arms the guy and arranges to return the next day for the money. But Zetterburg is found dead in his flat and Harry, who is not entirely unknown to the city constabulary, is brought in for questioning. He was seen by a nosy neighbour leaving Zetterburg's building.

Fortunately, he has a potential alibi - a prostitute he passed the time with while waiting for Zetterburg to come home. He was also seen elsewhere in the city at key times, cruising the gay bars. Because Harry's not-so-secret secret is that he prefers rough sex with young men. Very rough.

Anyway, Harry is released and sets out to track down Sonja the bowlegged prostitute. Along the way he comes across a one-eyed Austrian who seems intent on killing him. Then he happens upon a former movie siren who also likes it a little rough.

The book is first-person, present tense, the only way to take your Noir. Holmen has a style all his own, which works brilliantly. He conjures up Stockholm with a glamorous veneer that is only paper-thin. His cast of supporting characters is set with jewels like Harry's landlord Lundin and the prissy proto-Nazi detective Olsson. And the femme fatale, the blowsy drug-addled Doris, is heartbreakingly fatal,

Clinch is the first in a trilogy of Kvist novels, apparently. Next up is Down for the Count. You can count me in!

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