Monday, 16 September 2013

Allan Guthrie: Two-Way Split/Hard Man

I imagine that Allan Guthrie lives in some kind of witness protection programme, sponsored by the Glasgow Better Business Bureau in an effort to keep him safe from the Edinburgh Tourism Board, who presumably want him dead. Although of course, much though they may want to make an example of him, it could prove counter-productive to murder him to pieces in order to prove that Edinburgh is not a seething mass of murdering moronic scumbags. One more Gordon Pearce book might be enough to tip them over the edge, mind you, so I reckon Guthrie needs to tread lightly. That or get a three movie deal with Neil Marshall; I could see Marshall fitting Guthrie quite handily into his underground Border lair where they could plot together to make Scotland look like hell with bad plumbing for the next decade.

Things Allan Guthrie likes; opening the book with someone getting their nose broken. Having at least one character who's round the bend and acting under the influence of actual hallucinations. Killing just about everyone in the book, usually through hideous miscalculations. Things Allan Guthrie doesn't like; his characters. Edinburgh. The people who live in Edinburgh. After-shave (it's never mentioned without a shudder).

Both Two-Way Split and Hard Man run on the same basic engine, which is more or less, what would happen if you had a Jacobean tragedy, but staffed it with Scots thugs instead of Restoration dandies? I read Two-Way Split on spec, since it cost me a whole ninety-nine cent and the time it took me to read its brisk couple of hundred pages. Gordon Pearce, ex-con and utility thug, spends the book intimidating minor halfwits while the rest of the cast mire themselves into a robbery gone wrong; whereupon the going wrong pisses off Pearce mightily and he sets out for revenge. It does not go according to plan, since the rest of the cast are either crazy or stupid or if possible both, and by the time the action draws to a close, Pearce has no-one left to take revenge on and is looking pretty sick himself. 

So then I saw that there was a second book with Pearce, and it cost next to nothing as well, so I snapped that up to see what happened. A lot of crime writers take a liking to a character and gradually turn him into a superhero, so I was wondering if Guthrie, having set the character up, was now going to do a whole series where his knuckle-headed knight-errant would lope around Edinburgh righting wrongs and such as.

No, that wasn't the way he went. In Hard Man, Pearce is on the edges of the Baxter clan's efforts to protect their daughter/sister from hideous wrong doing at the hands of her husband, Wallace. The Baxters, as we learn in the first chapter, are not at all up to dealing with Wallace, but Pearce can't be bothered helping them out, no matter how nicely they ask or how much of their meagre savings they offer him. The Baxters go to ever more dubious lengths to either nobble Wallace or get Pearce to row in, and it all ends terrifically badly with crucifixions, dognapping, kneecapping and general mayhem. Pearce and his three legged dog are just about the only ones to get out even a little bit intact, and somehow, I can't see this becoming a well-loved series of cheery page-turnin thrillers.

Mostly because Guthrie's actually a good writer. His characters feel real. Breath-takingly stupid, but very real. Which means, of course, that it's pretty gruelling to watch them put themselves through the wringer. In conventional horror movies, you're biting your nails watching the characters getting stalked by some faceless evil, knowing that they're not going to make it. In Guthrie-world, the faceless evil is the characters' own petrifying idiocy, and it's somehow terrifying to watch it sweep one after another off the board. It's impressive, but I don't need to do it again for a while.

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