Saturday, April 28, 2007

“Hard,” Black, and Humorous

I seem to have gone all Celtic of a sudden, what with my expressed admiration of Irishman Ken Bruen’s latest P.I. Jack Taylor novel, Cross, then my willing transportation to the Aberdeen, Scotland, of Stuart MacBride’s fiction. And I shouldn’t fail, either, to mention crime writer Allan Guthrie (shown at left in the photo, with Irish novelist Declan Hughes).

I’m familiar in certain circles as a networking type of guy, and several weeks back, while I was in London, drinking with Bruen and others to celebrate Cross’s launch, I encountered a young author and journalist from Scotland by the name of Tony Black--a perfect name, as it turns out, because of the sort of fiction he pens. Over a few beers, I learned that in addition to his work for The Scotsman, Black has been featured in the Webzine Thug Lit and will have a short story in the fall issue of Bryon Quertermous’ Demolition. Furthermore, he’s involved (perhaps more than a wee bit) with the new UK ’zine Pulp Pusher, and has a story, “Pretty Boy,” in Issue #1. Black also has a first novel, Paying for It, making the rounds “after being taken on by a London literary agent.” Between pints of Guinness, Bruen, who’s read the manuscript, enthused of that book: “The writing is a joy, in your face, with that wondrous deadpan humor that only the Celts really grasp.”

The point of all this, is that in the course of our chatting about crime fiction, I mentioned how much I admire author Guthrie, who I first met during a panel discussion at Left Coast Crime 2006, in Bristol, England, and subsequently ran into again at a bar during the Harrogate Crime-Writing Festival. I told Black that I was looking forward to reading Guthrie’s new novel, Hard Man, and was disappointed that I couldn’t be on hand for the Hard Man launch festivities in Edinburgh (which took place this last week). As it turns out, Black had planned to meet up with Guthrie for that very same launch, and said that he’d report back to me on the proceedings. He recently e-mailed me this brief account:
The genteel Scottish capital of Edinburgh took some knocks at the launch of Allan Guthrie’s Hard Man recently. The Pino Grigio-swilling set of the plush West End were brought to earth with a thud as Guthrie booked them some lessons--Hard Man style. Fortunately, the only shots that were fired were of the malt whisky variety. Although Guthrie, being teetotal, steered clear of the Scots’ famous Uisge Betha [the Gaelic word for whisky, translated as “the water of life”].
“It’s been a great night,” [Guthrie] said, after a lengthy on-stage recital from his latest tome, not to the skirl of bagpipes, but to the carefully chosen strains of “Mack the Knife.”
“There was little or no practice, but it went off really well. I’m pleased with that.”
And the crowd approved, too. Wholesale applause followed the reading--some for the writing surely, but some also for the equally well-crafted performance.
Guthrie’s publishers, the Edinburgh-based Polygon, had chosen a swanky bar in the elegant New Town for the occasion, and mercifully the stag and hen parties stayed away.
But that didn’t stop the rowdies invading. Crime Scene Scotland’s Russel McLean led the Bravehearts’ charge, alongside The Incredible Alan Spark author and self-styled ne’er-do-well, Alan Bissett. It was left to [the] writer of The Glass House, Sophie Cooke, to bring some decorum to the fixture, which she managed in style.
“It’s a great turnout,” said Guthrie, flagging only slightly after a hefty few rounds of handshaking, “I’m just delighted so many people were good enough to come along.”
And why wouldn’t they? A nicer host would be a Hard Man to find.
The funny thing about these Celtic Noir writers--Bruen, Black, Guthrie, MacBride, and the rest--is that, while their imaginations and tales might be filled with disturbing imagery, they’re actually great guys to have a beer with, all of them funny. Perhaps the Celts are responsible for the familiar term “black humor.”

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