Scotsman Allan Guthrie is one of the most demented and twisted crime writers working today. And one of the very best. His third novel, HARD MAN, is the first ot enjoy hardcover publication by a major US publisher. And while this might go a long way toward widening his reading audience, it will certainly cause his fans and newly acquired readers to seek each other out, find a secluded corner somewhere, and urgently quiz each other with questions like, "You read it, did that really happen?" "Did I follow that correctly?"
HARD MAN is the damnest novel you are ever likely to read. And, yes!--one of the very best. But be warned: it is not for the squeamish. Guthrie's world is, as one of his promotional websites aptly states, "about very bad people doing very bad things to each other." Believe it.
Jacob Baxter has a problem. His sixteen-year-old daughter May is married to Wallace, an abusive man almost twice her age. And when Wallace discovers that May is pregnant, and that the child is not his, he swears vengeance on May. Jacob knows he must protect his daughter but hasn't a clue who to turn to. His two sons -- barrel-chested bouncer Rog, and emaciated fashion victim Flash -- talk a good game, but are ultimately useless. So Jacob follows up on a tip from a jailed loan shark and seeks out hard man Pearce (whom readers met previously in Guthrie's stunning debut, TWO-WAY SPLIT).
But Pearch makes it known that he is not interested in the job. The money is tempting, but Pearce would much rather walk his three-legged dog and sometimes converse with the ghost of his murdered mother than babysit for some dysfunctional family.
Inevitably, of course, Pearce does confront Wallace. But I'll hold off on any of the details from this point on. It's not so much because I don't want to spoil things for you. Rather, it's because I'm positive you wouldn't believe me if I did let on what happens. It's violent, for certain, and gruesome...but trust me, you have never read anything like it in your wildest imagination.
But HARD MAN is not some shallow gross-out festival of gore. Guthrie gets under the skin and inside the emotions of each of the story's characters. And while you may not believe what they do, you will certainly believe they do it. And these interior revelations are also where you find much of the novel's darker-than-dark humor.
Finishing this book was like stepping off a roller coaster after it finally comes to a stop. You feel queasy and jolted, but exhilarated. So cut to the head of the line and get yourself a copy. Then strap yourself in and brace yourself for the ride. As William Carlos Williams once commented about Allen Ginsberg's HOWL several years ago, "Hold back your skirts, ladies. We are going through Hell."