Friday, January 25, 2013

Allan Guthrie, funnyman

I recently expressed misgivings about wiseass crime writers: talented authors who can write the hell out of an action scene, who are good at going for the laughs, but who sometimes crack wise when (in my humble opinion) restraint is called for.

I am happy to report that Allan Guthrie is no wiseass. The extended edition of his novella Kill Clock had me laughing out loud and reminded me that the author, often cited for his chilling noir, is not just good at coming up with funny lines, but is a craftsman of the comic. Here's one sample:

"Pearce grabbed the wrist and used Baldie's momentum to pull him forward. His face bounced off the roof of the car with a dull sound like a dropped mug hitting carpet.

"That had to hurt.

"Pearce let go.

"Long time since he'd been behind a wheel. Hadn't had much experience before he went to jail, and since he'd come out, he'd not had the chance.

"First thing, he put on his seatbelt."
That's funny because it's 100 percent deadpan, without the slightest hint that author, narrator, or character know they are up to anything funny. The Guardian recently criticzed a BBC production of P.G. Wodehouse's Blandings stories for breaking the commandments of comedy, the first of which is: "Don't let your cast behave as if they are acting in a comedy. Wodehouse depends on all the characters taking their predicaments very seriously."

Guthrie does not need to be told this, not when he has a 5-year boy curse in amazement at protagonist Pearce's three-legged dog, or the boy's 2-year-old sister curse in imitation of her brother. And not when he has the children's mother plead for Pearce's help in terms that might be objectionable if another character applied them to her but are touching and maybe even a little heartbreaking when the she uses them about herself:
"`Doesn't help that I've spent time in psychiatric care.'  
"`Why should that make any difference?'
"`I was committed, Pearce. I'm a nutjob.'
"'My head was all over the place when I was a teenager. Didn't used to have my shit together like I have now.'"
I don't know about you, but I root for a character like that.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

I agree about Al being funny. I wrote this in June 2007:

An early scene from the book provides a good example of the humor in Hard Man.

“Pearce landed on his side and sank into the cushion. Braced himself to block a flying fist. He was alert now, prepared. But nothing happened. The big guy apparently wasn’t about to trade punches. Pearce’s towel had flown off, dropped to the floor. He relaxed. Well, as much as he could, given that he was bollock naked in front of a pair of strange me. Young men. Who clearly weren’t here to ask after his health . At least they weren’t naked, too. That would have been really uncomfortable.”

January 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I noted the humor of Guthrie's books the first time I wrote about him, in 2009. And I think Hard Man was shortlisted for Crimefest's Last Laugh award in the UK.

January 26, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

There are few who can write overtly funny crime books and make them work. Westlake and Hiaasen come to mind. Jon Loomis does a nice job. You're right about the deadpan nature: the best crime fiction humor comes when the character don;t know they're being funny, or the author slips it in without drawing attention to it, such as in the Guthrie example cited.

I re-watched GET SHORTY a week or so ago. Leonard's funniest book, and a great adaption. Every scene has a laugh, yet no character ever tries to be funny.

January 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, that's a pretty funny line, but I would argue that it has a bit of wiseass to it. I would say Guthrie's comedy has, I don't know, matured or deepened since.

January 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I should look into Joe Loomis. What should I know about him?

I like Westlake's Dortmunder novels, and even the Parker books have some great deadpan humor in them. I laugh my ass off when Parker says, "Shut up, Grofield" in The Score. But I don't think he combined comedy and pathos the way Guthrie does at his best.

January 26, 2013  
Anonymous Algor Gacho said...

I didn't think the seatbelt quote was really all that funny ... until I read it in context via Amazon Look Inside and couldn't help cracking up (no pun intended).


January 29, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Algor Gacho" interesting coincidence of initials with "Allan Guthrie." In any case, you're right that context makes the line work. Maybe I'll post the excerpt.

January 29, 2013  

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