Thoroughly entertained by Guthrie’s tough modern noir Hard Man, I began this novel with some expectation and wasn’t disappointed. The author writes with a blunt macho authority of time and place, the rough streets of Edinburgh the background for a bizarre and complex mystery with a cast of eccentric, often offensive characters. Prepare to enter a twilight zone where the usual rules don’t apply.
These characters live in the dark recesses of Edinburgh’s criminal underground, the criminal code of honor convoluted by the expedience of experience and the survival of the meanest. In this black and white world, the violence explodes from the first page, a take-no-prisoners rollercoaster ride with men who live by their wits, hapless prey the playthings of natural predators.
In the act of committing a second robbery, three crooks have mapped out their tactics carefully, planning to hold hostages at bay as they rob a post office. Unfortunately, their luck gives out: one slices the throat of the innocent woman behind the counter, leaving her bleeding to death in the arms of her son, who has unexpectedly arrived at the crime scene.
While the culprits return home to wait out the investigation, a devastated man is left to ponder the sudden death of his mother, Pearce only recently released from prison for slaying the junkie responsible for his sister’s death. Determined to find the criminals before the law interferes, Pearce (the protagonist of Hard Man) is slyly approached by a local P.I. who gives him a card in indicating that the private detective knows the identities of the assailants. On a rendezvous with revenge, Pearce has no way of knowing the insanity that waits at the end of his quest.
The thieves retreat, Robin, Carol and Eddie unaware that they have been followed by a curious P.I., each planning his own brand of betrayal. According to the photographic evidence supplied by the P.I., Robin Greaves’ wife has been having an affair with Eddie, the third member of the gang. Although the trio pretends to be united, other forces are at work, not the least of which is a psychopathic killer who will wreak havoc on the scene of their denouement.
The loss of his mother a bitter blow, Pearce is beyond grief, his every waking moment focused on revenge, the great equalizer in this novel. While Robin, Carol and Eddie plan for the future, each prepared to violently exclude the others, Pearce approaches with murder on his mind, soon to confront the monsters who have escaped from the closet of Guthrie’s vivid imagination.
The stuff of nightmares, Guthrie winds up his blood-soaked tale with the unexpected mayhem of violence and madness, truly conscienceless villains running amok in this wild ride, the brakes burned out along the way. Pearce prevails, a vigilante with a soul.