Sunday, March 16, 2014

SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie

Nick Glass is a rookie prison guard in a Scottish prison.  He has been on the job six weeks with mixed results—the other guards mock and make trouble for him and the inmates don’t respect him.  At home he has a five-year old daughter and wife.  His wife tends to drink too much, and is just on the backside of an affair.  To say Nick has a little stress is an understatement.

To make things worse Nick is approached by one of the inmates and asked to mule drugs inside.  The inmate gives him two choices: 1) make an easy buck; or 2) his little family gets hurt in a big way.  Nick is in big trouble as he desperately tries to protect his family at home and his own life at work.

Slammer is the sort of novel that creeps up on you in about three pages.  It starts hard and strong and never lets up.  Glass is a regular guy caught in a nasty and impossible situation.  He doesn’t belong in the prison.  He is a nice guy, both weak and sincere.  He, much like his name, is prone to fracture.  And Guthrie makes sure Glass does just that.

The novel opens with Glass in the office of the prison psychiatrist.  It is a mandatory visit and Nick is less than pleased to be there.  The psychiatrist is an instrument Mr Guthrie uses to foreshadow and then define the undoing of Nick.  He is a skewed sentiment of sanity in a dark and insane world.  A world that envelopes Nick and threatens to destroy him.  And Nick is the perfect object—he is prone to fantasy, and as the novel progresses, he begins to mistake his fantasy for reality.  It is a trip into hell.  A trip the reader knows is coming with each progressive sentence, paragraph and page, but is helpless to stop.

Slammer is a wonderfully executed novel.  It is reminiscent of Guthrie’s first novel Two-Way Split, but its execution is better (amazingly).  It is short, 263 pages, but it does not lack meaning or story.  The prose is hardboiled, lean and smart.  The dialogue is crisp, and the atmosphere is weighty and oppressive.  It is a fine example of the new noir: a hopeless, distraught and shameless (in a good way) vision of the human condition.

This is an encore post.  It originally went live on November 23,2009.

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