Slugger, Martin Holmén
The final instalment in the Harry Kvist series, SLUGGER, is again, brutal, unflinching, desperate, dark, sad, demoralising, and beautiful. Just like the rest of the series, only more so.
If you're new to these 3 novels (CLINCH, DOWN FOR THE COUNT and finally SLUGGER), then this is a series that can work as a set of standalone novels, but are much better in order. Harry Kvist is, on the face of it, a violent, dark and conflicted character. Ex-boxer, standover man, out homosexual in mid 1930's Stockholm. A Stockholm where he's always inhabited a dark, poor, tricky world, one now plagued by the rise of the Facists with Nazi's openly marching in the streets, and gangsters fighting a deadly turf war.
In this world Harry Kvist maintains an odd balancing act - part of the violence and the excess, he's also capable of extreme tenderness and kindness. In this novel he's caring for his landlord, and part-time boss Lundin, the undertaker who is obviously frail and dying. Then there's his dog Dixie, whose companionship and care remains a bright point in Kvist's otherwise dismal personal life. Although in this novel he's obsessed with the idea of getting to America, to his young daughter. The story of her birth, his relationship with her mother, and their parting of ways is expanded in short, reflective moments within the general hopelessness of a life that's meandering, and struggling. The desire to get to America is tempered by his desire for justice for his friend, and former lover, Reverend Gabrielsson who has been brutally murdered, and both those desires combine when Kvist pairs up with the gangster, Ma, head of one of Stockholm's largest gangs who promises him assistance to America for his help in the gangland wars.
These novels are dark, desperate and violent. They are explicit and unflinching. And they are amongst the most beautiful things I've read in a long long time. Kvist is fascinating. He's a series of massive contradictions in a suit and hat, but ultimately he's as human as human can be. Desperate for love, affection and purpose, his regard for Lundin, his love of Dixie are bright little lights in a world that's goes to shit on a regular basis. I can't tell you how transfixed I was with their combined fates - knowing that this is the end of this wonderful trilogy. Fates that physically jolted me, that hurt.
Slow and considered, the dance of life that Kvist commenced in CLINCH, speeds up and the fates align to end in exactly the way you'd hope it wouldn't, but could not imagine to have gone any other way.
Stockholm swelters in an unrelenting heatwave, tensions between fascists and communists simmer past boiling point, and the city feels like a pressure cooker.
Harry Kvist wants out.
Before he can leave, his old friend and former lover Reverend Gabrielsson is brutally murdered. Kvist notes the police are more interested in fuelling anti-Semitic rhetoric than catching the killer, so he decides to take on one last case.
During the investigation the former boxer stumbles on a Nazi terrorist plot, uncovers police corruption, and is caught up in a brewing turf war between two of Stockholm’s worst gangs. With his back firmly up against the ropes, can Kvist turn this fight around, or will he finally tap out?