A shocker, hypnotically scary-funny. As the ultra-violent plot of Allan Guthrie’s SAVAGE NIGHT powers along to regale us with a tangled case of feuding lower class families, plenty of butchery and missing body parts, we feel like indulging into some gross misbehavior: eg ever giggled during an eulogy? Ever laughed so hard you doubled over and fell off a church pew, and in doing so spit out a piece of a Kit Kat bar?
Don’t get me wrong – SAVAGE NIGHT’s gory, Edinburgh-based goings-on in the pulpiest tradition possible are far from including religion, or sweet treats. But this almost cheerfully blunt, carefree noir keeps feeding and teasing vague, aforementioned moments of unease, of an odd sense of guilt on the reader’s side. How so?
Guthrie’s multi-angle narrated story focuses on the Parks and the Savages, on filthy lucre, greed, family honor spun out of control, strange weapons, blackmailing and clueless people viewed through the prism of blood revenge. It makes sure to kick us hard in the shins. It also triggers our subconscious attempts to reverse unbearable plot details into some safety, normality – into something, anything that would weigh us down less, that would entitle us to laugh out loud by common moral standards.
But this outstanding novelist and publisher of ebooks (www.blastedheath.com), who has one of the most daring, experimental sensibilities at large in current noir writing, does not give us a break. Shock image after shock image looms up large, and equips SAVAGE NIGHT with a firm toehold on recognizable human bestiality. We have nowhere to hide, not even in our nightmares, and end up sickened, surprised, disgusted and grimly entertained at the vivid, sensory descriptions of physical torment. There isn’t a better world behind to soften these blows: SAVAGE NIGHT builts up a helluva hostile momentum simply to provide us with an extraordinary realistic sense of loss, a void, a hysterical laugh.
The darker-than-a-raven’s-neck story about two rival families at deadly odds also contains a dimension I find fascinating: its cartoon-esque characters basically understand concepts like risk, honor, pain or fear, but they are all beyond what empathy in the broadest sense of the word could mean. Allthough the chief personage emerges into three dimensions, the protagonists are hardly fully alive, but rather seem to act out of habit, out of a cold determination to win at all costs. The human condition as such has lost the power to touch them, which is why soulless slapstick is one of Guthrie’s key elements here. Empathy on the author’s side does emerge all right, a miracle this because there is no time really: things are happening too fast in this pacy, amoral Scottish night of obsession, violence and uncontrollable fear.
Throughout the book, the tone is at once ironic and eerie; it blankets SAVAGE NIGHT like white linen covers an unused piano. The straightforward, as such non-linear plotting works like a never tiring neon sign spelling out the triumph of death in the wickedest possible way. This novel is so brutal, intense and yes, comical over and over again that the reader comes away with surreal collages in his head like a blend of countless genre references, plus hints of Bruegel’s work, Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, De Sade, Monty Python, Tarantino, Thompson, Bruen, Duke Mitchell, Kubrick, Mamet to name but a few.
SAVAGE NIGHT doesn’t help to people its plot – for many characters, the only escape is the grave. Guthrie shows a certain intelligent, strategic toughness in not trying to soften the characters. The blackmailed former smuggler Tommy Savage, his small-time crook son Fraser, balaclava-clad Mr. Smith who puts the shake on, Andy Park who appears to be troubled by the mere sight of red body fluid: SAVAGE NIGHT boldly rises with the aggressive, over the top world of a bunch of low lives to have the reader hang on their every word in a teeth-gnashing, mesmerized way.
I once used SAVAGE NIGHT as a jolly perverse antidode (ha ha ha!) to pull through SLAMMER, Guthrie’s most confident masterpiece (yeah, stripped of funny texture and laughs, this one). However, rest assured that both books are not afraid to stand some of the old genre rules and conventions on their head – this author sets the whole noir theme in vibration with repeated assaults on taboo and tender nerves. Thus? Go dare to get a hold of Guthrie’s stuff. Ok, you will probably wind up poorer in Kit Kats, but hey…