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by Allan Guthrie
Polygon, April 2007
268 pages
9.99 GBP
ISBN: 1846970040

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I don't know what's in the water up there, but there's some seriously dark crime fiction coming out of Scotland at the moment and Allan Guthrie's HARD MAN is a strong addition to the Tartan noir crew.

Pearce (well, you'd go by your surname if your first name was Gordon!) is an Edinburgh tough guy looking for a quiet life. He's done a stint in prison and is trying to get over the death of his mother and sister. So he's bought himself a flat by the seaside in Portobello, and has three-legged dog Hilda for company.

And then the Baxter family come along. They've heard that Pearce can take care of himself, and they want him to act as bodyguard to pregnant 16-year-old May. Her husband Wallace is threatening her after finding out that the baby isn't his.

It's a job Pearce can do without, and says so. But he's soon dragged into the whole mess and it starts to get very nasty and very violent.

Guthrie can write, no doubt about it. HARD MAN is chiselled out of granite, with dark humour mingling with some truly scary scenes if it was television you'd be watching the scenes in Wallace's basement from between your fingers!

Oh, and it's the sort of violence where people get shot, stabbed, beaten up, headbutted (and worse) and keep getting up for more. Think Cape Fear. And after a while it gets to be a bit too much. I like the noir side of things, but the bloodshed became relentless and tedious pretty quickly.

And the other thing is, I didn't care hugely about the characters. Pearce wasn't distinctive enough, and the Baxter clan were just too off-the-wall. And if you're going to do noir well, it's not enough to be able to pull off the gut-churning violence, which Guthrie undoubtedly can. You need the reader to be convinced by the characters.

It all set me thinking about Ken Bruen, the king of noir. Bruen has taken Jack Taylor lower than Guthrie's characters can ever imagine, but his deceptively simple storytelling can be peeled back to reveal humanity and a complex cultural depth. Guthrie's good, but he has a way to go before he rivals the king.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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