‘The inward fire eats the soft marrow away, and the internal wound bleeds on in silence’ (Virgil, The Aeneid, 4.93-94)

Something got me in its grip while reading this masterpiece of noir. Something like a green, bent mamba. TWO-WAY SPLIT prevents access to oxygen by means of a steadily tightening plot. Things start out slow. Robin Greaves, a failed pianist stuck in a fragile state of mind like an animal that’s hunted for too small a hole, has hired an oddly styrofoam-esque, clumsy PI. Greaves’ wife Carol seems to carry on with the couple’s best pal Eddie. When proof of infidelity gets delivered, the pace of events gains sudden momentum, and madness is closer than the reader knows.

Guthrie is scarily in control of his material, which seems completely shaped for a camera. His approach is so sober, so clinical, so external that he just hovers above his made up bunch of battered characters instead of getting involved: explanations, let alone hope never catches up with the goings-on. The style is impersonal and hard; the short, often lewd dialogs both echo and mock the very terror of lowlife existences and appear fit for the darkest side of screenworld. (Can’t wait!)

Time, its passage has an especial home in TWO-WAY SPLIT: the reader cannot stay away from annihilation no matter how hard he tries, because the author turns toward ticking clocks all the time. Maybe the story’s crimes and corpses itself are a diversion. Brutality and chaos may dominate the narrative, but the real question is, what is happening to sick souls cracked like nuts – souls that won’t become whole again, while lives pass a shade faster than you expect? Guthrie zaps his readers with chases, violence and more chases; there’s beating and killing and swearing and revenge attempts until the plot rotates into something that can best be described as the final, calm taking back of all future possibilities and prospects: game over.

In the course of pulpy events the reader gets to know a messy crew of underdog protagonists whose fates appear oddly glued together, then flung into a Scottish winter. The sky above Edinburgh is cold and empty – no deities to turn to. Robin, his wife Carol and accomplice Eddie screw up a post office robbery. Pearce, an ex-convict who drifts forlorn through his stony garden of thoughts ever since his sister Muriel’s drug-related death more than a decade ago, loses his mother during said heist, which prompts him to turn to lunatic thoughts of revenge – the theme of his itchy life set on the edge of nothing. He also happened to trust the wrong woman and struggles with loan shark issues, a fact that leads to Ailsa’s door. Her situation’s black, bleak, sick as well: no money, no hiding from a hot-headed ex-bedfellow for her and her daughter. A deep deep yes would be her answer to a caring guy, but this is Guthrie land, where good does no good, and even potted plants look evil. Which is why Robin’s brother Don can’t free himself from harmful formulas in his attempt to reconnect, and gumshoe Kennedy fails to become that very different person, one hope away.

Go get a hold of this book. It listens carefully to how underdogs talk. It offers believable, though not lovable characters. This is Guthrie land – a nice place that makes you consider to sleep with a gun under your pillow.

‘When I’m laid in earth, may my wrongs create no trouble in thy breast. Remember me, but ah! Forget my fate’

Henry Purcell, Dido’s lament, Dido and Aeneas


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