Friday, September 4, 2009

Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie (Hard Case Crime)

Since September 2009 marks the fifth anniversary of Hard Case Crime, I will be reprinting my reviews of the first 40 books from my old (and now mostly defunct) Craig's Book Club site — 2 for the first 10 days, and 1 a day for the next 20. I hope you enjoy this refresher course in the variety of crime fiction that this fascinating publisher has to offer.

I had always thought of noir fiction as being a purely American thing, inspired as it was by mid- and post-war disillusionment and the consequences thereafter. However, crime happens everywhere and, if nothing else, Trainspotting proved that the Scots can get just as nuts as Americans — not that that's necessarily a good thing. Part of a recent trend so widespread it has its own name ("tartan noir"), Kiss Her Goodbye by Allan Guthrie is a portrait of the other side of the ocean, and shows just how similar the responses of humans are given specific circumstances.

Joe Hope is an enforcer (not unlike Nolan in Two for the Money); his friend Cooper loans people money and, if it is not collected, brings Joe with him — and Joe's baseball bat, an odd accessory for Edinburgh — to offer some incentive in the form of broken bones. (If more motivation is needed, hitman Park is at the ready.)

When word is received of the suicide of his daughter, Gemma, Joe immediately flies to visit her cousin Adam in Orkney, with whom she was staying, to deliver his particular brand of blame. Instead, he is greeted by the local police, there to arrest him for the murder of his own wife, Ruth (the evidence is circumstantial but damning).

Caught in a presumably impossible situation, and still in the process of grieving his losses, Joe then conspires — along with his lawyer and hooker girlfriend, Tina — to discover what really happened, and why someone would want to frame him. Meanwhile, Adam isn't being very helpful because he has Gemma's diary, which contains information that could ruin everything.

Guthrie (Two-Way Split) is a fiend with his pen, and he's not just "taking the piss," either (to quote his main character). Not content to follow a formulaic narrative flow, he keeps the suspense up throughout Kiss Her Goodbye, leaving the important answers for the final ten pages. And he doesn't waste time on closure: after a literal head-cracker of an ending and two pages of wrap-up, it's over.

Considering how Guthrie keeps us guessing throughout Kiss Her Goodbye, his ending isn't as inventive as it could have been; it's just a little too pat after the intensity and imagination of what came before. To be fair, though, it does arise organically from the characters' expected behaviors and, after being sent through the wringer for 200 pages, an easy ending is a bit of a relief.

Joe Hope is a fascinating character with some intriguing flaws (including one I never would have expected, although I suspect Freud would have a field day with it); in fact, all of the characters are fully realized — except perhaps Ruth, but she is really more of a plot catalyst than a necessary character. Kiss Her Goodbye is a welcome addition to the Hard Case Crime canon — and comes with another terrific cover from Chuck Pyle (Grifter's Game). It's got enough violence and pathos to satisfy even the most jaded crime reader, and it offers solid insight into the realization that everybody is crazy, no matter where you live.

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