By Jay Stringer
If there were such thing as a sacred cow in an Allan Guthrie book, it would be set on fire and, quite possibly, raped. There is no holding back, no boundaries that won’t be crossed.
If we take a look back at his output so far, we see a writer who takes the story wherever it needs to go, and who puts ever more trust in his reader. He has taken that trust even further with his latest novel, SLAMMER. The story revolves around Nicholas Glass, a young prison officer who is treading water in a job that's dragging him under. His loyalties become compromised after some of the inmates find his weak spot, and from there it's only a matter of time before things start to get messy. Very messy.
I mentioned the trust that Guthrie put in his reader. It feels like a rare thing. With each book he has played with narration, with the truth being filtered through the voices of his characters. Particularly with his previous two, HARD MAN and SAVAGE NIGHT, where we have been given large casts and multiple narrators. Each voice is giving you their side of the story, and we are trusted to read between the lines. SLAMMER pushes that trust to a new level, maybe as far as it can go. The story is narrated from deep within the head of a single character, blurring first and third person narration, and the story we are being told may not be an entirely accurate reading of the events. If you can't trust the storyteller, who can you trust? It's an interesting device, one that manages to challenge and entertain at the same time.
Hot on the heels of SLAMMER comes the novella KILLING MUM, another twisted domestic epic.
Carlos doesn’t kill people for a living. Not really. He arranges for other people to do it, which is different. The story starts when he is hired to kill a woman named Valerie Anderson and mailed a bundle of cash to pay for it. Valerie is Carlos’ mother, which means he needs to have a real think before arranging the killing.
Who would order the hit, and why? He can only see two suspects, and he’s related to both of them. In fact, he’s married to one of them.
It’s deliciously fucked. Sick and twisted in all the right ways.
You just know this isn’t going to end neatly, but would you want it to? And again, Guthrie is willing to put faith in his reader, some facts are held back because they are not relevant, and because we should be allowed to decide some things for ourselves.
The story is a coda of sorts to SAVAGE NIGHT. It helps to have read that first, but it doesn't really matter because, at 96 pages, this is a good taster of Allan's work. The fact that it carried over some unfinished business from a previous story is perhaps a hint at a larger theme. In all of his books we see where violence starts, but not where it ends. There is rarely such a thing as finished business.
The book is part of the Crime express series from Five Leaves Press. If you're a fetishist like me, you can't help but love these small editions, with their French flaps. You could do much worse than checking out other books in their series, such as the equally great GUN from Ray Banks. They also publish some fella named Russel D McLean. That's a lot of Scottish talent for a midlands based publisher!
To date, I've only read one Guthrie book, the Hard Case Crime offering Kiss Her Good-bye. I loved it and the internal struggles his main character goes through. The violence in that book is brutal, short, and then it's over. It's part of the casual violence that I liked and wrote about in my review of the novel.
I like books that give multiple viewpoints with certain details left out. I'm reading Duane Swierczynski's The Blonde right now and he gives you multiple POVs with things left out. It's pretty fun to piece together things you know from one character and apply it to the other characters. A nice change from the single POV of many books.
The Crime express series is a great concept and I'd like to see something similar over on this side of the pond. Hmmm, business opportunity...
I read SLAMMER a month or so ago, my first Guthrie. Took me a while to get into it, but once I realized what he was doing I was hooked. Helluva book.
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