Allan Guthrie shakes every bit of action from this tense, humorous and chaotic novel. The protagonist, Pearce, is a hard man and not to be messed with. It is clear by his antisocial actions and the ten years he spent incarcerated for killing his drug-addicted sister’s supplier that Pearce takes his life and his family very seriously.
After the recent death of his mother during the commission of a violent crime, Pearce is in no mood to suffer fools kindly. Unfortunately, fools are what he gets when he steps out of the shower in his bungalow in Portobello on the Scottish coast, only to be assaulted by two brothers who plan to ask for his cooperation after they beat him up. Doesn’t happen.
Instead, Pearce lays the brothers, Flash and Rog Baxter, out just before their father introduces himself into the carnage and resubmits the deal. Although his cooperation is even less likely after the contretemps with the buffoonish Baxters, Pearce listens politely as Jacob Baxter explains the family’s dilemma.
It seems May Baxter, sixteen, has been thrown out by her decade-older husband, Wallace, when he learned she was pregnant with another man’s child. Now May’s family is concerned that Wallace will go after his wife; they want to hire Pearce to discourage Wallace, or at least protect her from her martial-arts trained spouse.
Pearce would like the money but is perfectly content to live in isolation with his only true friend, the three-legged Dandie Dinmont, Hilda (a male, but who cares?) but considers the family too dysfunctional to merit his attention. That would be the end of it if Hilda hadn’t gotten kidnapped by Wallace, dumped into the ocean where he “dropped like a stone when he hit the water.” Now it’s personal.
Pearce goes after Wallace with a vengeance, but after the first skirmish realizes he’s up against an equally hard man, not to mention borderline insane. By this time, Pearce has gotten himself into a fix that is all but impossible to rectify, forced to reconsider his status and come up with another plan.
The hand-to-hand combat between the two men becomes a wild melee. No longer confined to Pearce and Wallace, the action spreads to all of the Baxters, including May, and Wallace’s special prisoner, a man called Jesus for lack of a better frame of reference. In a flurry of violence and mayhem, guns blasting, tires screeching and the blade of a knife slicing home, Guthrie provides a wild ride in a blood-soaked, frequently acerbic, tortured imbroglio that is an unpredictable page-turner.
Not for the faint of heart, the novel portrays a hard man up against an indifferent world with nothing to lose but the three-legged dog that is his constant companion. With fresh dialog, Hard Man pulls no punches, yet humanizes a most bizarre assortment of buffoons and loners, loonies and losers. Hard Man is a joyride from start to finish.