Friday, July 4, 2008


Allan Guthrie goes all the way. In terms of critiquing noir, I think that that is one of the best reviews a writer can receive so I will repeat myself: Allan "The Mad Scot" Guthrie goes all the way and refuses to wear shoes while doing so! The man is just ballsy and brilliant and goddamn fucking GOOD.

What does "going all the way" mean, you ask? It means that he comes up with a sick, nasty premise (which all noir writers do naturally) but then takes the story so far and breaks so many rules that you believe anything could happen, that anyone - even kids - are capable of meeting grisly, disgusting ends. I consider myself a tough, manly reader but with Savage Night and Hard Man, Guthrie honestly tests my mettle.

To quote Roger Ebert's original review for Blood Simple, " There is a cliché I never use: Not for the squeamish. But let me put it this way. Blood Simple may make you squeam." Now just replace Blood Simple with Savage Night or Hard Man and "may" with "will" and it's just about right.

The aforementioned Coen Brothers classic brings into focus a major reason why I love Guthrie's Savage Night. I think that the Coen film is brilliant because it is actually a very simple story that is made into an extremely complicated plot simply by what certain characters know and what others don't. Ray wouldn't have killed Marty if he known the P.I. had started the job instead of Abby. You see? It's a simple concept but in a way but an extremely complex sentence. That is kind of how Guthrie's hyper-intense book works. It seems simple enough (two families killing each other) but because of what certain characters know and their actions because of that knowledge (and Guthrie's twisty time line) it is made very, very complicated. There is something indescribably exciting about that to me, that the plot is complicated and twisted not through there being spies and hidden secrets and corrupt nations, but through life-size characters fucking up their lives and each other over simple motives.

It's also like Blood Simple because it is abso-fucking-lutely agonizingly intense. In fact, if this were made into faithful movie, it would make the Coen Brothers classic look like Muppets in Space. This book is sick, brilliantly plotted, filled with sharply-drawn characters, brutal, brutal, brutal, and funny (though most of the laughs were along the lines of "dear Jesus, I can't believe he's actually going to go through with this" than "oh, isn't that cute and clever").

But the main reason this book floored me so comes back to going all the way. Within the last few years I have become a horror fan after spending most of my life resisting such films. What made me come around to them is I realized that horror films were the one genre that can easily break rules. You can kill the big star in the first act. Everyone can die at the end. There can be a mix of humor and violence. The film can be unrelentingly grim. The first half of the film can be really slow and the second super intense and sick. You can literally do ANYTHING in horror movies as long as it is scary. You can GO ALL THE WAY. I think that Guthrie's approach to noir is much like an edgy filmmaker's approach to his horror movie. Hell, with all the torture and blood and guts in this book, you might actually think you were reading a horror novel. Guthrie just rewrites the polite rules of genre books and keeps the pages flying, never making you groan along the way.

I really liked Two-Way Split and Kiss Her Goodbye but it wasn't until I'd read Hard Man that I really stood up and cheered. It was my favorite novel of 2007. If a book rocks me harder than Savage Night later this year, I'm writing up '08 in the noir history books.

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