bag·man (băg’mәn) n., pl. –men (mĭn). 1. Slang.

dishonest official; a person who collects, carries, or distributes illegal payoff money.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie

Do you like your thrillers with a little bit of psycho thrown in? Head twisting plot turns? Bent psyches, sad, funny and frightening?
Honest to God, about once a year some book comes along, I devour it in a day or two, and I’ll just be stunned. Some of these I’ll get to in the future, not to mention some stuff that’s just plain strange—even by Science fiction standards. But this, this jewel of a novel, crawled right up out of the muck and strangled me with a sardonic wit so beautiful I didn’t even mind.
If you’re not familiar with Allan Guthrie you should be. While I haven’t read all his stuff, his book HARD MAN had me laughing and cringing at the same time, and its follow-up, SAVAGE NIGHT, was an Edgar Award Winner. (For my money HARD MAN’s the better book, but I’m weird that way.) Or, you can just pick up SLAMMER and see what you’ve been missing.
To support his wife and newborn child, twenty-four year old Nick Glass has a crappy new job in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a prison guard. In fact, he gets along with some of the inmates better than the other guards; in particular a blind inmate named Mafia whose crime was so sick no one will talk about it.
While in the midst of being given all the worst assignments by his co-workers, Glass is blackmailed into becoming a drug mule by one of the prisoners; if he doesn’t somebody on the outside will kill his wife and child. Meanwhile, his wife is now out of a job, had an affair some six-months ago, and is hitting the bottle again. Glass is estranged from his mother and sister, and his wife’s side of the family thinks he’s worthless. Needless to say our hero/protagonist has more than his share of stressors, and we’re invited to watch him crack. But the crack up is beyond what the reader might predict.
Like the best of Noir novels, we can see the lights of the locomotive in the distance, but we’re so busy dodging bullets we forget about the train—until it’s right on top of us. Then we lay right across the track with our hero and laugh sardonically while the wheels tear us ribbons. And, by the end we realize we should have known it all along.
I found the overall feeling of this book reminiscent of Charles Perry’s Portrait of a Young Man Drowning, which might give away too much, but is also high praise coming from me. I’d love to tell you by the ending what’s exactly going on—but, I won’t. Let’s just say one morning our hero awakes with a splitting headache, a finger missing, and no memory of what happened. He accepts it as if it were nothing and goes on with his plans.
And then it starts to get really weird.

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