Sunday, 15 October 2017
MARTIN HOLMEN - DOWN FOR THE COUNT (2017)
The second hard-hitting Harry Kvist thriller - fresh out of prison, Harry is determined to avenge a friend's murder, and expose a police cover-up protecting people in high places...
Harry Kvist walks out the gates of Langholmen jail into the biting Stockholm winter of 1935. He has nothing to his name but a fiercely burning hope: that he can leave behind his old existance of gutter brawls, bruised fists and broke bones.
But the city has other ideas. Nazis are spreading their poison on the freezing streets, and one of Kvist's oldest friends has been murdered. Before he can leave Stockholm's underworld for good, he must track down the killer. As Kvist uncovers a trail of blood leading to the highest echelons of Swedish society, the former boxer finds himself in a fight to the death with his most dangerous opponent yet.
Born in 1974, Martin Holmén studied history, and now teaches at a Stockholm secondary school. Down for the Count is the second thriller in The Stockholm Trilogy, following on from Clinch. The trilogy will be completed with Slugger published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2018.
Martin Holmen's debut Clinch was an enjoyable read a year or so ago and while I wouldn't necessarily claim early 30s Sweden as a preferred setting for my reading, there is something about Holmen's writing that draws you in – his depiction of the streets, the cold, the people - make you feel like you’re present. I’m sure I had to put an extra layer of clothes on, when I read this one.
Harry Kvist, our main man gets released from prison and has grand plans for the future. His lover's release date is a week after his and he has things to arrange, a suit and a job for the lad and he needs to make his flat a bit more presentable. Lundin, his landlord and friend will help as usual, financing Harry, while meticulously jotting down the figures and the scale of Harry's debt in his notebook. Harry can help out with his undertaking business and work the debt off. A business opportunity has arisen and it merits some consideration. A cigar shop is up for sale and Harry has first refusal. Kvist the businessman?
In the meantime, a promise needs to be kept. His oldest friend Beda was dying of cancer and wrote to Harry asking him to look out for her deaf mute son, Petrus. Beda looked out for Harry and never judged him for his sexuality or his mistakes.
In a senseless crime, Petrus has murdered his mother and has been carted off to prison. Case closed, no-one really cares. Except Harry. Why would he do that?
I really like Harry as a character. His heart and the sense of regret and loss he still feels over his family. His wife and daughter, a long-time gone to the States and Harry, still feeling some guilt over his failure to join them. His refusal to deny his sexuality at a time when homosexuality is a crime. I admire his loyalty, his doggedness and street-smarts as opposed to intelligence, his physicality and usefulness with his fists, which present him as an intimidating figure at times. He follows where his
nose goes and warnings and threats, while acknowledged don't deter him from his task.
Down for the Count is a slow-burner of a book. Progress in the investigation is ponderous at times and other events in Harry’s life figure prominently. Harry enlists, Beda’s estranged daughter in the investigation. Presenting as a married couple they track down Petrus’s current whereabouts. In the background, he’s still making plans for his future, while attempting to make some level of amends for the abandonment of his family.
With Harry and Elin asking questions, alarm bells start ringing and a continuing conspiracy to protect a secret in the highest ranks of Swedish society needs some affirmative action. The hunters have become the hunted. Holmen builds the tension slowly, so that when events do escalate, it’s a race to the finish.
A helluva lot to like - setting, mystery, main character, resolution and Harry’s aftermath. I look forward to Harry’s return in the climax to the trilogy – Slugger.
Thoughts on the first in the series, Clinch are here.
4.5 from 5
Read in September, 2017
Published – 2017
Page count – 304
Source – review copy from publisher – Pushkin Vertigo (thanks Tabitha)
Format - paperback