Stockholm. To visitors the capital of Sweden appears to be a clean, friendly city, laid out beautifully on islands , surrounded by crystal waters with large apartments painted white with furniture from IKEA in the same colour. Its citizens can enjoy the fruits of the welfare state: free education, 18 months of paid paternal leave and 6-9 weeks of paid vacation and heavily subsidized health care. But it must be said that taxes are rather high…
However there seems to be a blackish side to this egalitarian country. For nearly twenty years now, a myriad of Swedish and other Scandinavian crime writers have painted Stockholm and other Nordic cities in darker colors. Abroad, this genre is called Nordic Noir . It can be said that these writers reflect changing structures in a society where a nationalistic conservative right is on the rise and the collective wealth is slowly sold out to private investors.
Still, I would not want my daughter to grow up anywhere else. It is still a good place to live in which provides for its citizens in a decent way. This has not always been the case, though. In the end of the 19th century and onwards, Sweden was a poor and segregated country on the outskirts of Europe which caused nearly a third of the population to leave for the USA.
Ever since I first heard the term Nordic Noir I have fantisized about merging the old noir tradition of authors like Chandler, Hammet and Thompson with a truly Swedish expression, set in the thirties when Stockholm was a poor, run-down city.
This dark fantasy of mine turned into a whole trilogy about a former boxer, now a debt collector, called Harry Kvist. The first installment, Clinch, is set in the horrible winter of 1932, the year when the economic depression hit hard. A debtor is found dead, all eyes are on Kvist, and a cat- and mouse chase through every part of the town begins. And believe me – Stockholm then was neither clean nor friendly, a bit like Harry himself.
Clinch by Martin Holmén is published by Pushkin Vertigo (£8.99). Holmén will be appearing as part of Val McDermid’s ‘New Blood’ panel at Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival on 23rd July.