Tag Archives: Noir

Review: Clinch by Martin Holmén

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Pushkin Press.  This was published in 2015 in the original Swedish and this English version has been translated by Henning Koch.

My Review:
ClinchHarry Kvist is an former boxer who lives in the decrepit, dirty and seedy city of Stockholm in the 1930’s.  The city is full of tramps, prostitutes, and bootleggers as well as poor and destitute citizens who have been affected by the economic collapse of this decade.  Kvist himself leads a hard life by serving as a collector of debts to those who have defaulted on payments.  His specialty is repossessing bicycles which is easy money for him.  When the novel begins Kvist is collecting on a debt from a man named Zetterberg who owes a few thousand kronor.  Kvist scares Zetterberg by giving him a good beating that is not enough to kill him, but enough to leave him with a few scars as a “reminder” to pay the money he owes.  When Zetterberg is found dead the next day, Kvist is the prime suspect and he is immediately picked up by the police.

Kvist spends a few rough nights in a disgusting jail cell covered in urine and lice.  He is given a working over by the detectives and after they don’t get any information out of him he is released.  He spends the next few days hunting downs leads about Zetterberg’s murder and trying to find a prostitute named Sonja who is the only person who can provide him with an alibi for the time of the murder.  Kvist’s detective work takes him to bars, gangster hideouts, slums and brothels.  The best part of the book is the author’s ability to fully capture the squalid, dingy and oftentimes dangerous city.  The streets are an interesting mix of pre-industrial Europe and the slow progress towards modernization.  Horse carts still plow the streets and deliver coal, but cars are also driven through the crowded and dirty city.

The plot about the murder is slow to advance throughout the course of the book.  However, Kvist’s contact with the seedy underbelly of the city make for some thrilling scenes.  His always has a desire to use his boxing skills and he gets into several fist fights with other gritty characters.  He is also shot at and chased after and there is rarely a dull moment in Kvist’s life.  But even though there is an undercurrent of violence throughout the book, Kvist is not a murderer or a psychopath.  He can be sensitive to the needs of others, especially women who are in a tough spot or emotionally distraught.  He is even nice to animals and feeds the starving strays on the streets of Stockholm.  All of these details give us a multi-dimensional character with whom, even when he is violent, we can sympathize.

Kvist’s sexuality and his experimentation with both males and females gives the book an added layer of interest and sophistication.  Kvist has several encounters with different men at the beginning of the book which is very dangerous for him since any type of homosexual act is illegal at the time.  But Kvist’s sexual preferences are not an “either, or” choice.  He also hints at the fact that he has a daughter and makes comments about the type of woman that attracts him.  He spends quite a bit of time in the second part of the book sleeping with an actress who was trying to contract him for his collection serves.  The exploration of his sexuality, which is not usually done in Noir fiction,  adds another brilliant dimension to his character.

I am excited that this is supposed to be the first book in a trilogy about Harry Kvist and I am eager to read the next two installments which are coming out in the next year.  This is noir writing as its best and you won’t want to give this book a miss if you are a fan of this genre.

About the Author:
M HolmenMartin Holmén is a Swedish writer based in Stockholm. He was orn in 1974. He teaches History, Swedish and History of Culture and Ideas at an upper secondary school in Stockholm two days a week. He is the author of the Harry Kvist trilogy.




Filed under Historical Fiction, Literature in Translation, Mystery/Thriller, Scandanavian Literature, Summer Reading

Review: Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson

I received a review copy of this title from the publisher, Orenda Books.  This book was first published in Iceland in 2010 and this English translation has been done by Quentin Bates.

My Review:
SnowblindI don’t usually read many mystery or crime novels, but when Orenda Books asked me to review some of the books in their catalog the descriptions of them convinced me to give them a try.  This book is much more than a typical crime novel; it delves into the lives of several characters in a small isolated town in northern Iceland.  The atmosophere of the book is also a surprise as the scenes are set in a small, isolated,  cold, and snow-covered town.

Ari Thor lives in Reykjavik with his girlfriend Kristin and is studying to become a police officer.  For the first time in his life he is very much in love and feels that he and Kristin will make a life and a future together.  When he gets his first job in Siglufjörður, a small village in northern Iceland, he is torn about whether or not to take it.  Kristin is finishing her medical degree in Reykjavik so there is no way that she can go with him.  Taking this new job will mean a separation, for as long as a year or two, from Kristin.  But Ari Thor believes that this job is a great opportunity and accepts the position anyway; he leaves Kristin behind and is heartbroken that their future together is uncertain.

Siglufjörður is supposed to be a town where no one locks their doors, where everyone knows each other, and where nothing exciting ever happens.  So it is either bad luck or bad timing that, when Ari Thor becomes the town’s newest police officer, two murders happen within days of each other.

The first murder, which many think at first is just an accident, happens at the local dramatic society.  The director of the society, a very old man in his nineties who is prone to drinking too much, takes a nasty fall down the stairs during a rehearsal break. At first the incident is thought to be an accident, but as the story develops it appears that several people in the dramatic society are capable of pushing the old man down the stairs.  One of the greatest strengths of the book is the development of several characters who belong to the society and work in the theater.  My experience with crime novels has been that characters are not deeply developed as the focus is on the plot.  But Jonasson gives us an interesting set of characters with well-developed descriptions of their history in the town and their relationships with one another.

A second murder also takes places in this small town.  A woman is found stabbed to death outside her home and her abusive husband is the primary suspect.  But the husband has an alibi for the time during which the murder took place.  So it is up to Ari Thor to untangle this mystery.  Another strength of the book is that the author is able to weave two different mysteries into the plot without the story being too cumbersome or confusing.

The final aspect of the book that I have to mention is Ari Thor’s descriptions of Siglufjörður which, even to Icelanders, is on the edge of nowhere.  It snows so much that Ari Thor begins to feel trapped and claustrophobic in this place.  The snow and the cold never stop and when the only road in or out of the town is completely blocked by an avalanche his panic attacks and nightmares get worse.  The vivid descriptions of the cold and snow and darkness were a perfect setting for this story.  As it snowed here in New England last weekend when I was reading the book the setting felt especially apt.

Whether you are a fan of crime fiction, or like me, just enjoy dabbling in the genre here and there, Snowblind is an entertaining read.  This book actually ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and I am eager to read the next book in this series and see what happens with Ari Thor.

About the Author:
R JonassonRagnar Jonasson is author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series.

His debut Snowblind, first in the Dark Iceland series, went to number one in the Amazon Kindle charts shortly after publication. The book was also a no. 1 Amazon Kindle bestseller in Australia.

Snowblind was selected by The Independent as one of the best crime novels of 2015 in the UK.

Books in the Dark Iceland series have been published in the UK, Germany, Poland and Iceland, and rights have also been sold to the USA, France and Italy.

Ragnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he works as a writer and a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV-news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.

Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and recently set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA, in Reykjavik.

He is also the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival Iceland Noir.

From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic.

Ragnar has also had short stories published internationally, including in the distinguished Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the US, the first stories by an Icelandic author in that magazine.

He has appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik with his wife and young daughters.


Filed under Literature in Translation, Mystery/Thriller