Killing Mum by Allan Guthrie
One Man's Opinion
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Every day we make hundreds of decisions. Some of them are good, some bad, many of them inconsequential.
The day I passed Waterstones on Princes Street, saw the poster for the launch of Allan Guthrie’s first novel and decided to go in and get a ticket, now that was a day on which I made an excellent decision.
He read and held a Q&A session where he had written his own questions. “What might you call an armed thief? Robin.” Stands to reason. It was a cool way to set it up and I knew immediately that I was watching someone special enter the world of published novelists. I’ve been a fan ever since. Maybe I’m not his biggest fan, I’m only five-eight and a half, but I can’t be far off.
I was lucky, too, to get the chance to see the launch event for Hard Man. The reading was accompanied by a jazz band, a trio I think, the rhythms blending and getting my adrenalin going. Pop, pop, pop, it was beatnik city and I loved every minute.
At Ronnie Scotts, many moons ago, I saw Slim Gaillard play. Thought I was cool as snow just for being there because the man had a mention in On The Road. It was a great night. Hard Man reminded me of that, as if just for a moment I had my finger on the pulse.
Good decisions all.
...what would you do if you were given a contract to kill your mum? What if the two people who could have set up the contract were your mum and your wife?
When Carlos Morales found himself in that position, he wasn’t sure quite how to handle it.
He knows now.
It’s typical of Guthrie to put his characters through the mincer.
Imagine being in a tree. Someone beneath is throwing stones at you. The stones get bigger, the throws more accurate.
Climb the tree, right? Move yourself away from the thrower by heading into the places where the branches are flimsy and all the while you’re getting further from the ground.
The stones keep on coming.
You have to do something. Inaction is not an option.
Carlos climbs higher and higher until he’s right at the top. The branches are as thin as straws up there, the drop's a hundred metres. It’s not looking good. All he can do is wait and see.
All I could do as a reader was hold on tight and get to the end. That’s no hardship. Not a word is wasted. The characters are real, where they live and how makes sense. They tell us about themselves not in what they say but in what they do, how they act, the way they move from one decision to another.
We get inside Carlos's head. It’s not always a good place to be, but it’s a wonderful way to follow the man’s logic and the rationale behind his twists and turns.
And boy, does Guthrie throw those rocks hard.
I’m trying to slow down when I read his work. I’m desperate to take it all in, get to the next page, the next chapter, over the next cliff-hanger. I realised a while ago that when he reads his own words the pace is key, revelling in the dialogue and the choice of words. I was able to savour ‘Killing Mum’ by taking my time.
We’ve seen some of these people and places before. There’s the tanning studio and the survivor of Savage Night (if you haven’t read it, I think it’s pretty much essential). I like the way Guthrie has created stories by using the familiar, even if there is no way any of the books could be called sequels. He has set up strong foundations and it’s good to build upon them once in a while.
‘Killing Mum’ is a pocket book from the Crime Express series. I don’t think there can be more than 20, 000 words in there. In that short space and time a complete world has been set up and a monumental chain of events has been completed. An amazing achievement.
I’m picking this as a short example, not because it’s the strongest moment, but because it tickled me. He makes me laugh, Mr Guthrie.
She took a sip of her drink, blinked slowly.
“Plumbing,” she said. “It’s never too late.”
“Cago en tu leche.”
She frowned, pouted her lips. “Something about milk?”
Something about shitting in it but he wasn’t about to tell her that.
“I’m very fucking sorry I never became a plumber, Mama.”
As few ‘saids’ as can be got away with, no ‘ands’ wherever they aren't necessary. Even the word 'and' can interrupt the flow.
We learn, even from this, something of the relationship between Carlos and his mum and the shitting in the coffee? No way I was expecting that.
The only thing I can say against the book is that it leaves me with no new Guthrie to read until he gets his next work on the shelves. I can honestly say that I can’t wait to be able to get my hands on it.