Wednesday 19 October 2016



The first book in the Harry Kvist Trilogy

You can put the gloves on the shelf but it takes a long time to wash their smell from your knuckles.

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.

Blending noir with gritty violence, Clinch is a visceral, compulsive thriller that packs a punch and leaves you reeling.

'Clinch is a dark, atmospheric, powerful thriller, the best debut novel I've read in years' - Lynda La Plante

Read and enjoyed last month, Martin Holmen's Clinch is the first in a planned trilogy featuring ex-boxer Harry Kvist in 30s Stockholm. Harry's retired from the ring, but still finds occasion to put his fists to good use, earning a living as a debt collector.

One job sees him visiting a man called Zetterberg. After a firm "chat", Kvist leaves promising to return the following day. Zetterberg is found murdered shortly after and Harry's looking good for the crime in the eyes of the police.

Kvist is an unusual character. He was destined for great things in the past. His boxing career was on the rise and fame and fortune beckoned in America. His wife and daughter were leaving ahead of Harry, they made the trip - he never followed. Throughout the book, Harry often thinks of his daughter, less so his wife. We have a kind of explanation for his remaining behind, but it's never totally revealed. Intriguing. We see a dark side to Kvist - he's bi-sexual favouring rough encounters with men in toilets and parks......perhaps there lies one reason for allowing his family to fracture.

When Harry is interviewed about the murder, we realise he is known to the police. His sexual appetites have resulted in his imprisonment in the past. Homosexuality is illegal in the 1930s in Sweden.

Fearing for his freedom, Kvist resolves to find a missing witness - a prostitute called Sonja. Harry spoke to her outside Zetterberg's apartment, but the police have been unable to locate her.

An interesting mystery unfolds as Harry endeavours to track her down, after a while becoming well aware that he is not the only one looking for her. Why is a mysterious German dogging his steps?

Further developments over time, advance our tale. The German makes an attempt on Harry's life and what's the story behind the estranged magnate's wife and why is she so interested in securing Harry's affections?

Great setting - Christmas and a bitter wintertime in 30s Stockholm. There's ripples and undercurrents prevalent with the rise of Nazism in Germany. Holmen shows us the life of the working classes in Stockholm at this time - their poverty, the unemployment, their daily struggles.

The undoubted star of the show is Harry himself though - not entirely likable, but never less than fascinating. Capable, intelligent, tenacious, thoughtful and kind, but also violent, sometimes taking a cruel pleasure in hurting others, more in pursuit of gratification than when his fists are the only recourse in securing information to advance his investigation. Definitely a man I'm keen to read more about in the future.

4.5 from 5

Martin Holmen was kind enough so suffer a few questions from me recently here.

Publisher Pushkin Vertigo tentatively advises......2nd in the trilogy is Down for the Count (2017) and 3rd in the trilogy is Slugger (probably 2018)

Thanks to the publisher for my copy.

Read in September, 2016


  1. Oh, I've heard good things about this one, Col. I like the idea of a protagonist who's a former boxer: it's an interesting innovation. I like the Stockholm setting, too. Glad you enjoyed this one.

    1. Margot, I think you would like this one. It does get quite dark and there's some violence, but it was within the context of the story and not gratuitous in my opinion.

  2. Oh, this looks right up my street. What a shame the Pushkin Vertigo titles are so hard to get hold of here -- at least, they were the last time I looked. I'd better go check the situation . . .

    1. Hopefully that might have changed, or you could always move back to Scotland...

  3. Although I can definitely see that this would be an interesting book, it has many elements I would prefer to avoid. But maybe someday.

    1. Yes - definitely borderline for you I think.

  4. Col, this Harry Kvist is quite a character. I don't think I have encountered someone like him in fiction.

    1. Prashant, he is certainly quite different to anyone else I can recall in my recent reading.

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