“First rule of debt collecting: If you want to improve the odds on your client being at home, visit him at night when he ought to be curled up in bed asleep. Second rule: Always carry a weapon.”
Kiss Her Goodbye from Allan Guthrie is a bit of change of pace for Hard Case Crime. Hard Case Crime titles are a blend of classic ‘lost’ noir and new bold titles. Some of the books have humour (Somebody Owes Me Money) and some are dark and bleak (Money Shot). Allan Guthrie’s Kiss Her Goodbye lands firmly in the dark, hard-edged category–there’s little humanity in these pages–just a sliding scale of nastiness. But the difference with this Hard Case title is that the author is Scottish and the story is set largely in Edinburgh.
Joe Hope is a collector for loan shark, Cooper in Edinburgh, and the book begins on the morning after an all-nighter for Joe and Cooper. The two men spent the night paying a visit to a “young twat” named Billy who is behind on his payments. Billy had been “overheard in his local calling Cooper a wanker,” and then subsequently bragged about the fact he had no intention of paying Cooper back. To a loan shark, these words are a red flag, and so Cooper and Joe visit Billy and spend a few sadistic minutes whacking him with a baseball bat–the weapon of choice for both men. After beating Billy senseless, it’s off to a brothel for Joe and Cooper, and then they crawl back to Cooper’s place in the early morning.
Joe is still recuperating when he gets a confused, hysterical phone call from his wife, Ruth. Summoned home and still suffering the ill effects of the all-nighter, it takes Joe some time to understand that his only child, 19-year-old Gem has committed suicide. Gem, who recently dropped out of university, was living on the Orkney islands with her cousin, Adam. Ruth and Joe, whose poisonous marriage leaves only recriminations and hatred, immediately try to blame each other in an endless round of accusations and violence.
Joe flounders around for a couple of days while he tries to absorb the news. Gem’s death is obscured by heavy drinking, more fights with Ruth and a visit to his favourite prostitute, the scrappy Tina. When Joe sobers up and comes to his senses, he receives a strange call from Adam. Instead of Adam calling to give Joe condolences, he lobs accusations and Joe explodes:
“Joe whispered,’Taking the fucking piss.’ His shoulders were shaking. An explosion of rage shattered his self-control. He shouted into the phone, ‘taking the fucking piss.”‘He yelled once again into the phone, pulled back his arm and threw the phone as hard as he could against the nearest wall. The casing broke, scattering plastic over the pavement. A couple of passers-by looked at him and he felt suddenly embarrassed. He bent down, picked up the bigger pieces and ambled to the bin twenty feet down the road. Casual as you like. As if phone hurling was a traditional Scottish sport.”
Things are bad for Joe, but they are about to get worse. Joe decides to travel to Orkney and discover the reasons behind Gem’s death. Soon Joe finds himself accused of a brutal savage murder and more….
Kiss Her Goodbye is a very typical Hard Case Crime title–now this does not mean that these books are interchangeable, but that there seems to be a certain standard for selection. I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again, I imagine editor Charles Ardai sitting in his office, choosing manuscripts considered for publication with one pile of accepted manuscripts and another pile of rejects, and if the books don’t grab on page one…well they are tossed in the reject stack. Hard Case titles always grab the reader on page one–there is no preamble–no build up, and although I’ve been a bit disappointed in a couple of the selections, I’ve generally come to expect a certain standard when it comes to these books. They are all highly readable–pulp, noir and crime, yes, and the tales vary–some with humour and some without, but mainly very entertaining books that you can sink into. So it’s very easy to go and buy a Hard Case title without worrying too much about the fact that you’ve never read this particular author before. In fact it’s a great way to discover new authors if you like the crime genre, and through Hard Case I’ve discovered Jason Starr, Charles Ardai, Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins, David Goodis and Christa Faust (just to mention a few). I am a die-hard fan, and this translates to the fact that I joined the Hard Case Crime Book Club as I found myself buying all the titles and now the titles arrive faithfully once a month. On top of that, you just have to love the covers….
Kiss Her Goodbye is a book without heroes, and yet at the same time, Joe, who seems like a nasty piece of work at the beginning of the novel, is gradually revealed to be a stunted human being. He’s a tangled mess of sexual problems and thwarted ambition, and although at one point he was enrolled in university and had a future, now he’s sunk to the lowly position of working for an Edinburgh loan shark. At 39, he’s out of touch with his only child, loathed and ridiculed by his wife while a prostitute, paid by the hour, is his only friend. Emotionally crippled and underemployed, Joe is a man who communicates with a baseball bat. He’s hardly Mr. Sensitive, but Joe not only has to clear himself of a rather intricate frame but, perhaps more troubling, he has to unravel his own deep-rooted, painful problems in order to get to the truth. While I guessed some of the plot twists and turns, Joe is clueless, but that’s because in order to discover the truth, he has to accept some unpleasant facts about his life that he’d rather not examine. You can’t very well take a baseball bat to your past, can you?