I have never read anything by Allan Guthrie before, so I wasn't sure what to expect with this short story of his. The blurb suggested an intense crime thriller, and I was curious to see how this would be developed with only 134 pages of text and this quite well spaced out.
Guthrie starts off by giving us a brief foreword/note to explain that this book is sort of an offshoot from other stories he has written, featuring a former hitman named Pearce. Guthrie saw this opportunity to take a couple of characters from the novels featuring Pearce and develop them a bit more, giving them a plot and their own lead roles, so to speak. As a result, I should warn you that I am unaware if anything I say in here spoils anything in another book or not.
Guthrie characterises Pearce very briefly, at the beginning, giving us a situation involving an aggressive man in a car while he's out walking his dog, Hilda. It shows Pearce not only to be a fair man, but also one who is cold and calculating and with the potential to be very dangerous and violent. Once this is done, we get into the main plot, as an old flame of Pearce's, Julie, shows up with her kids to say she needs help. She owes money to a loan shark, and her 'Kill Clock' to pay it back has run out, and they're now out to kill her. However, the last time Pearce saw Julie, she scarpered having fleeced him of a load of money and a flashy engagement ring.
Believing her doesn't come easily, but Pearce's better side wins over, and before long, we get our gripping crime thriller that we were promised by the blurb and general feel of the book. Guthrie's strength is in his characterisation, especially the use of the dialogue. There is quite a bit of dialogue, and the rest of the book is mainly told from the perspective of Pearce as he goes through the night, trying to help Julie. Things escalate, and I thought the clever thing about it was that it didn't seem like a short story. It was really involving, and the 134 pages whizzed by, making me feel like I had read a full length novel. I found Guthrie's writing flowed very well, and dispensed with the fluffy descriptive passages, opting instead for action and letting our imaginations do a little bit of work as well.
You get a good mental image of the characters, such as Julie and her kids, and it's interesting the way this trio of a family are shown. The swear words are almost instantaneously, and while they do give you a certain impression of them, it isn't really that necessary. It adds a little comedy to the moment, but in essence, quite strong language was unexpected and I did think slightly out of place. Had there been more time to develop the characters, the language would no doubt have added to their overall personas, indeed this may even reflect on something in the other books, but for the purpose of this short story, I'm afraid I didn't quite get it.
Having said that, this was the only thing I was disappointed at in the book. It really was a gripping read, and has made me want to get hold of his other books involving Pearce. I find him a good sort of anti-hero, violent and murderous, but with moral standards and fighting for the good cause in a way. Kill Clock is currently available for £2.99 from amazon.co.uk, which is a little over the odds, I feel, but it is a very well written short story, and one I highly recommend.