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Slammer Hardcover – November 18, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Edgar-finalist Guthrie (Savage Night) explores the tenuous division between truth and desperate fiction in the mind of a rookie prison guard in this gritty thriller. In 1992, having recently relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife, Lorna, and young daughter, Caitlin, Nick Glass manages to form an uneasy friendship with Mafia, a nearly blind inmate, whose crime was so horrific that no one will talk about it, at a prison for violent offenders nicknamed the Hilton. With abuse coming from his fellow officers and prisoners alike, Glass is soon coerced into a dangerous alliance with another inmate, Caesar, who threatens Glass's family unless he agrees to smuggle in heroin. So begins Glass's bloody descent into hell, as he tries to protect Lorna, Caitlin and himself from Caesar's henchman and a danger that might lurk much closer to home. Guthrie's visceral style is a perfect match for the grim setting. Fans who prefer their crime fiction ultra hard-boiled will be rewarded. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Edgar-finalist Guthrie (Savage Night) explores the tenuous division between truth and desperate fiction in the mind of a rookie prison guard in this gritty thriller. In 1992, having recently relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife, Lorna, and young daughter, Caitlin, Nick Glass manages to form an uneasy friendship with Mafia, a nearly blind inmate, whose crime was so horrific that no one will talk about it, at a prison for violent offenders nicknamed the Hilton. With abuse coming from his fellow officers and prisoners alike, Glass is soon coerced into a dangerous alliance with another inmate, Caesar, who threatens Glass's family unless he agrees to smuggle in heroin. So begins Glass's bloody descent into hell, as he tries to protect Lorna, Caitlin and himself from Caesar's henchman and a danger that might lurk much closer to home. Guthrie's visceral style is a perfect match for the grim setting. Fans who prefer their crime fiction ultra hard-boiled will be rewarded.
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Top Customer Reviews
I thought at first it was the subject matter--both books deal with prison, albeit one centers on a guy in prison and the other (Guthrie's) has a protagonist who is a guard, or as we call `em here in the States, a hack.
But, that wasn't it. It really bothered me. Then, I thought perhaps it was that both were Scottish. Now, I felt I was getting closer to uncovering the connection my mind was making.
And then, it dawned on me. It was the world-view of both writers--their cadence of their expression. I knew then why I had joined two writers of different eras together. It was the same visceral feeling I got when I first read James Lee Burke and Joe R. Lansdale and Anthony Neil Smith and Harry Crews--the feeling that I was reading the spiritual descendents of William Faulkner.
It was a geographical thing--no--more--it was a geographically political thing. While Mssrs. Burke and Lansdale and Smith and Crews all employ particular voices and all are different from Faulkner's (as well as similar), there is an undercurrent in all that make them related. I was seeing the same thing in Guthrie and Kelman. It's a cultural thing I suspect. I wish I could articulate it better than I am here and I may well be far off-base, but I feel what I feel.
Stories are more than a plot and characters doing interesting things. The very best of our literature goes beyond that and allows the reader to see inside an intelligent mind. That's what happens with Guthrie's books. We see that dark place within that only the very best of writers ever get to and it's the definition of honesty many seek but most grow weak when approaching and end up settling for an approximation of truth. Guthrie gets it.
What all the writers I've named here have in common is a dark view of existence. One that I share in my own outlook on life. Which is why I'm so attracted to this sort of writer more than any other.
As an ex-con, I'm leery of novels set in prisons. The vast majority get it wrong. It becomes clear immediately that their knowledge of prisons comes from TV and bad movies. When I encounter terms like "shiv" and the like, I quickly put the book in the "send to the used-book sale" pile. Slammer is the real deal. When I was reading it, my hands began to sweat and I had to put it down often and take a walk outside and smoke a cigarette or two. I've been out of prison for decades now and for the first twenty years experienced nightmares. They've been absent for many years now, but they came back while reading this book.
And that's all right. I'll forgive Mr. Guthrie for this. I may have gotten back the nightmares for a time, but I also received something very important. Genuine and raw feeling. And that's worth a lot.
He gets it exactly right. When I was in the joint, our biggest source for drugs was always the hacks. Either directly or by their complicity. For an apt example, there were two brothers--one inside the walls and one outside--and on visiting days the free brother would visit. They had to plan their visits for when a certain guard was on duty. On those visits, the brothers wore identical shoes, and at some point during the visit, they'd simply switch shoes. Each had hollowed-out heels. In the inmate's would be the "green" (real money) he'd collected for the previous week's drugs, while his brother's kicks held smack. If a righteous hack had been on duty, they wouldn't have been able to make the switch. The thing is, without guards, a lot less drugs would find their way to prison populations and that's exactly what Guthrie's guards are doing.
Right on point.
Alexis-Charles-Henri Clerel de Toqueville said something to the effect that nations are judged by the quality of their prisons. From Kelman to Guthrie, I think I have a pretty good idea of Scotland.
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Every sentence is a new paragraph, so no thought is ever really completed. I'm often told what he's feeling or what he's thinking instead of being shown through his actions or condition. Each new sentence renders the story that much more incomplete.
The dialogue is child-like. I remember reading stories just like this written by an eigth-grade writing squad, except the eighth-graders completed thoughts before beginning a new paragraph.
This book is just way too much work to follow. No great story. No great characters. No big deal.
How much you enjoy Slammer will depend on the empathy you feel for Glass as he goes about living his life of quiet desperation. Some might feel sympathy, but most will probably feel disdain, as Glass is too often the author of his own misery; Guthrie takes a big risk in making him so unlikable, a risk that doesn't necessarily pay off. Readers may also be discouraged by the author's attempt at a twist ending, which most will see coming from a long way off, making the novel's dénouement disappointing, rather than surprising. The biggest surprise for many may likely be how weak this effort is in comparison to Guthrie's other novels, such as his highly praised debut, Two-Way Split, and Kiss Her Goodbye, which was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Gumshoe Awards.
Pretty cool jacket art, though.