Guthrie writes hard fiction - no frills, lots of violence and realism. In Slammer, his protagonist is twenty-two-year-old Nicholas Glass, a rookie guard in an Edinburgh prison. Glass is a young father, anxious about his new job. Both inmates and fellow officers create the perfect canvas for Guthrie, Nick facing an antagonistic environment no matter which way he turns.
As the psychological drama unfolds, it becomes clear that Glass - who endures the nickname “Crystal” - will be caught in a web of deceit, fear and increasing paranoia. Already too softhearted for such a job, Glass favors a near-blind con named Mafia, reluctant to believe that Mafia has indeed murdered two people in cold blood. But this is a symptom of Nick’s overall incompetence for this job, his inability to face up to reality in a hard world.
Worrying about Mafia and the fate of a feral kitten who roams the prison, Nick is the victim of increasingly cruel practical jokes at the hands of his coworkers, the perfect target for a group of cruel thugs who exist on a level barely above the incarcerated felons. So it’s all downhill when Glass is coerced by an inmate, Caesar, to mule drugs into the prison, the well-being of Glass’s wife and daughter, Lorna and Caitlyn, threatened if he fails to cooperate.
Hiding his problems from Lorna, the marriage soon shows the signs of stress, Lorna turning to the bottle for company and ignoring the needs of her small daughter. When a stranger appears at Nick’s home to enforce Caesar’s demands, Nick cycles into panic. A slow rage simmers as his circumstances get more difficult, a situation that will end in violence.
Nick’s one-time favor becomes the first of many, his aggravation and paranoia growing with each delivery - not to mention the number of drugs he has been chipping from the deliveries he makes to the prison. Glass’s personality disintegrates in a downward spiral of fantasy and reality, of violence and absurdity, Nick unable to distinguish between the two. Predictably, “When Glass breaks, he shatters.”
Part dark psychological drama of mental disintegration, part hard-boiled noir, part expose of the truly base nature of the criminals on the prison - and the guards - this is a ride through hell with no stops along the way for relief or distraction. Nick’s confusion, his weakness and lack of character coalesce in an unsympathetic protagonist. A fan of Guthrie’s work, I don’t feel Slammer has the spirit or cohesion of his other work, or the solid storyline. This is just a tough, ugly tale with a secret twist that hardly matters by the time it is revealed.