Review - Clinch, Martin Holmén

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Clinch
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Book Synopsis

An ultra-gritty piece of contemporary Swedish noir, set in a decrepit, highly atmospheric 1930s Stockholm that is a far cry from the modern, egalitarian capital city of today. 

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.

Book Review

Ultra-gritty describes the 1930's Stockholm that Harry Kvist occupies, as well as Kvist himself. To say nothing of the people that he mixes with. It's a beautifully evoked  world of dark and despair, littered with violent sexual encounters, drinking, and oddly, an unexpected love affair of sorts. 

Told from his point of view Kvist is nothing if not brutally honest about himself, his situation, even the way he looks. And as an ex-boxer he's well suited to his now role of debt-collector, and general intimidating presence. It's the role of debt collector that sees him become the prime suspect after a debtor he has just visited, and roughed up just a touch, is discovered murdered in his apartment. Kvist might be the last known person to have seen him alive, but this time he knows he's definitely not guilty. Unfortunately clearing his name isn't going to be straightforward as finding the witness that saw him leaving on the night, when he's just got is a working name and physical description to go on, isn't easy.

The plot itself is not unfamiliar - the lone wolf character, presumed guilty because that's the easiest conclusion to draw, setting out on his own to clear his name. What lifts CLINCH out of the familiar is the strength of the character of Kvist and the world that he occupies. Working the streets, the slums, the brothels and the dives of Stockholm, there's something deeply physical about the way that Kvist undertakes his quest. But then sheer physicality is the thing about Kvist - be it his hetero- and homo-sexual encounters, or the way he inhabits the darker places in which he seeks. 

When Scandinavian crime / thriller fiction first elbowed itself into the consciousness of crime fiction fans it frequently bought with it something unusual at the time - introspection and consideration, the examination of why people do what they do, rather than always the crime, an investigation and resolution. CLINCH seems to come from somewhere slightly different again. Kvist feels like he'd be comfortable walking the dark, gritty streets of a dangerous American city, and equally at home on the hard edges of the Scottish and Irish tenements plagued with violence and social problems. That he's from Stockholm, and the world he inhabits is dark, cold, dirty, desperate, and frequently pretty nasty makes more sense than this reader ever imagined would be possible. 

If you've read the blurb for CLINCH and formed some conclusions about style, and outcome in your mind, then it's likely you got close in some things and miles away in others. There are shades of noir in this novel so unexpected that even after reading CLINCH, this reader is still mildly stunned and absolutely thankful for the opportunity.

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