“Slugger” by Martin Holmen— Stockholm, 1936

Holmen, Martin. “Slugger”, translated by Annie Prime, Pushkin Vertigo, 2019.

Stockholm, 1936

Amos Lassen

Martin Holmen’s “Slugger” is the third hard-hitting Harry Kvist thriller and the end of “The Stockholm Trilogy”. Harry is fresh out of prison, his friend is dead, and the trail of guilt leads all the way to Hitler’s Germany.

Set in Stockholm in 1936. Harry Kvist, a bisexual ex-boxer now working as a debt collector and he is bitter, angry and more alone than he has ever been. When his friend, Father Gabrielsson, is found brutally murdered by the altar at Katarina Church, it doesn’t look as if the police are interested in finding the culprit. So Harry decides to do so himself.

As he investigates, he finds a trail that leads all the way to Nazi Germany where fascists are plotting a takeover in Sweden. It’s summer during a heatwave, and Harry is now almost forty and wondering if he’s going soft. His mood is immediately more darkened when he learns that Reverend August Gabrielsson has been murdered, crucified with 9-inch nails on the floor of Katarina Church, a star of David sketched in blood at his head.

Harry is not involved in politics, but he knows Gabrielsson was strongly anti-Nazi, and since Harry has no faith in Stockholm’s Police Force to deliver justice, he decides to punish the killer once he finds him. His enquiries point him in a certain direction, but he has other demands on his time since his boxing trainee, Hesse is due for a bout; his landlord is ailing and needs his care; a lover has come into his life; and a letter from America holds promise of a sort.

What is most disturbing is the demand from one of Stockholm’s gangster families for his cooperation in what looks like a turf war. Kvist works alone, and is inclined to believe this can’t end well for him.

Holmén takes us back to the seedy mid-1930s with lots of smoking, hard liquor, violence and gunplay. The heatwave means lice infestations, lots of dust and public water is scarce. The humor here is dry and often black and the sex is not vanilla.
The plot is riveting and kept me reading non-stop. There is a dramatic chase, lots of dead bodies and a wonderful escape and all against the backdrop of the imminent Nazi menace.

Holmén’s dialogue is sharp and he has an eye for details. Here is “Gritty stylish Scandinavian noir from one of Sweden’s hottest emerging authors.”

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