Clinch by Martin Holmen

May 16, 2016

The writing’s on the wall for Harry Kvist. Once a notorious boxer, he now spends his days drinking, and his nights chasing debts amongst the pimps, prostitutes and petty thieves of 1930s Stockholm. When women can’t satisfy him, men can. But one biting winter’s night he pays a threatening visit to a debtor named Zetterberg, and when the man is found dead shortly afterwards, all eyes are on Kvist.

Determined to avoid yet another stint in prison, Kvist sets out to track down the only person who can clear his name. His hunt will lead him from the city’s slums, gangster hideouts and gambling dens to its most opulent hotels and elite nightclubs. It will bring him face to face with bootleggers and whores, aristocrats and murderers. It will be the biggest fight of his life.

Time for some crime. I’ve read and enjoyed quite of a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction. I’ve also read and enjoyed quite of lot of historical fiction. The promise of a novel that successfully combines the two certainly piques my interest. Clinch is the debut novel from Martin Holmen featuring ex-boxer Harry Kvist.

Kvist remains a bit of an enigma throughout. Though there are a few snippets about his time in the ring, as well as his time in the armed forces, for the most part he is a mystery. I rather like this approach. You’re not always one hundred percent sure which way he is going to jump in any given situation. The added bonus is that there is certainly plenty of scope left to explore the gaps in his past in further adventures.

Overall, I enjoyed Martin Holmen’s writing. It has a direct, uncomplicated quality that suits the crime genre well. Kvist is a both tenacious and pugnacious, so his actions could never be described as dull. You kind of get the impression that he views most other people as nothing more than an inconvenience. He certainly isn’t averse to letting his fists do the talking. He stomps around the dark underbelly of Stockholm’s streets always focused on his goal. Kvist’s years in the ring have left him a little punch drunk. It’s a nice touch. The odd memory lapse here and there is not the best trait to have when you find yourself becoming a fledgling detective. The good news however is that any forgetfulness is offset by a desire to learn the truth. He will stop at nothing to learn exactly what happened, and who is responsible for all his woes.

The choice of historical time period and location adds some additional depth to the narrative. The rise of the right wing and Nazism has a direct effect on Kvist. Sweden is feeling the effects of political upheaval elsewhere in Europe and it is noticeable. On a more personal level, Kvist has a preference for the company of both men and women so is viewed as indecent by many. It is pleasing to note that he is completely indifferent to any potential moral outrage.

Clinch does a good job of setting the tone for further Harry Kvist adventures. I admit I’m curious to see what will become of him as his timeline marches forward towards the rise of Hitler and the Second World War. I rather suspect there are interesting times in store for our protagonist.

Dark, adult and just a little bit seedy, Clinch is a great example of historic crime noir executed well. This is a solidly entertaining novel and I look forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future.

The English language release of Clinch is published by Pushkin Vertigo and is available now.

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