HARD MAN is the title of the book, but its Edinburgh-based author appears nothing of the sort. For Alan Guthrie, the description gentleman is more fitting. We meet in a Capital coffee shop, and save a little skirmish over the bill - he insists on paying - Guthrie gives little indication of his hard-won credentials as one of the country's premier crime writers. His city-inspired tales team vengeance with violence, creating a heady cocktail for his legions of readers, but like I say, the man himself avers little of this.

“The title of the book could easily have been Hard To Be A Man,” he says. 

“Pearce, the book’s protagonist, fancies himself as a hard man but he’s too dumb and too emotionally fragile.  

“Wallace, the psychotic husband, could be said to be the book’s main hard man. But he’s no match for my choice as to the book’s real hard man: May, the daughter. Or maybe Hilda, the dog. It’s a toss-up.”

Without a doubt, Guthrie’s third foray into the crime genre is a complex tale to pin down. Set mainly in his current home town of Portobello it is at times, amusing and insightful, but always, dark. 

“Blacker than a dog’s guts,” is how I describe it to Guthrie; he seems to like that, but fights shy of the idea that the book comes from any dark part of his own psyche. 

“There is a dark side to Allan Guthrie, but only at the weekends. I try not to kill people during the week,” he says. 

“I’m teetotal and a vegetarian, which is sometimes a surprise to people who meet me expecting me to resemble one of the characters in my books.  

“I’m really quite normal. My imagination has some serious kinks in it, that’s all.” 

And what kinks they are. Incest. Rape. Suicide. Not to mention the numerous beatings and blaggings that splatter the pages of his novels from the Debut Dagger shortlisted Two-Way Split to its follow up Kiss Her Goodbye, and next month’s publication, Hard Man. However, a delve into Guthrie’s past reveals little to contradict his description of himself as ‘normal'. Growing up on the northern isle of Orkney - he was born there in 1965, but moved to Edinburgh at 21 - his childhood seemed one long preparation for his future career. 

“I started writing when I was very young,” he says. 

“I wrote a short story about a picnic when I was five. The story made it into the school magazine. I went on to write my first novel in primary five.  

“On the afternoons when the other kids were drawing and painting, my teacher encouraged me to write. By the end of the year I’d completed a short novel of over 100 pages.” 

That early writing project set his train of thoughts rolling on a familiar track. 

“[It was] a crime novel involving a group of 14 kids who became involved in a series of murders while they were on holiday.  

“I wrote two novels in my teens which were angst-driven existentialist nonsense that thankfully no one but me has ever read.” 

When Guthrie started to take his writing seriously - he is a self-confessed addict of books on the craft - it was the Capital which proved a catalyst for success. 

Moving to Edinburgh in 1986 - he says this had always been an ambition of his - the new setting fired his imagination. 

“[There is] a wealth of crime writers in Edinburgh, I wonder if those of us who weren’t born here are lured here by the Gothic. I always find the Old Town inspirational. I can’t help but wonder how many stories are locked away among all those closes and wynds,” says Guthrie. 

“I try not to think about writers who came before me when I’m writing myself. If I did, given the abundance of literary talent Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, has bestowed upon the world, I wouldn’t be able to get as much as a sentence written.” 

But it was just one of those great literary talents which the Capital has produced - and some help from the Evening News - which provided the opening Guthrie needed to launch his career.After a time spent working in a city branch of Waterstone’s and struggling to have his writing taken seriously for three years, Ian Rankin stepped in to share some of his limelight with the budding scribe.  

“Ian Rankin has said some flattering things about my work and his support undoubtedly has been of enormous benefit,” says Guthrie.  

“I’d spent years looking for an agent, but after Rankin mentioned my debut novel at the [2004]  Edinburgh Book Festival, at which point I had no idea he’d even heard of me, the Evening News picked up the story and published an article on me.  

“That spurt of publicity resulted in interest from several agents. I found myself in the very nice position of being able to choose. The catalysts for me getting a shot at being published in the UK in the first instance were undoubtedly Ian Rankin and the subsequent News story.” 

And the king of Capital crime writing royalty has kept a close eye on Guthrie’s progress, recently lavishing more praise on his efforts. 

“I follow Allan's career with great interest, and have already read an early copy of his new book, which I enjoyed,’ Rankin told the News. 

“He has huge passion for crime fiction, having been a fan of the genre and having worked in a bookshop before he ever tried writing any, so he brings to his work a lot of knowledge of the crime tradition.  

“It's good to see him getting decent advances, too - I got about eight hundred quid for the first Rebus!”  

Since Edinburgh-based publisher Polygon paid Guthrie the largest advance in the firm’s history, £50,000, he has been steadily working to spread the goodwill shown to him.  

Taking on the rolls of commissioning editor for PointBlank Press, literary agent at city agency Jenny Brown, and webmaster of his own site, Noir Originals, he is busy in search of the next big thing. 

“I try to help new writers whenever I can,” he says. 

“I don’t have a great deal of spare time, but I do find that sometimes I’ll offer editorial advice on a piece of writing that’s been sent to me via my website and it clicks with the writer.  

“I love nothing better than when that happens. Of course, sometimes I get the opposite response, but I still think it’s worth offering my advice for those who want it and feel they can benefit from it.” 

If Guthrie’s example is anything to go on, fans of edgy Capital crime writing have much to look forward to. It’s a view he seems to agree with, despite the obvious obstacles. 

“It’s extremely hard to be a publisher these days. Books have to compete against so many other leisure interests: movies, television and video games being three obvious examples.  

“Already, we hear that certain age groups no longer read, men between the ages of 20 and 50 being the most commonly cited example.

“I can’t help but wonder if the reason they don’t read is because very few publishers are prepared to publish the kind of transgressive material that appeals to this demographic.  

“It’s hard to predict, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years some of the biggest success stories in the crime fiction field will come from writers who resonate with the kind of reader who’s partial to a game of Grand Theft Auto or who might like to watch TV shows like The Sopranos, The Shield, Deadwood or The Wire or who grew up spellbound by Tarantino movies and whose favourite recent films are the likes of Old Boy and Sin City.” 

For a man whose writing is so dark, Guthrie remains unrepentantly optimistic about the state of his chosen profession.  

“There’s a moral grey area being explored . . . as well as an emotional depth and linguistic cunning that makes me optimistic that the future’s a lot rosier than some might predict.” 

Again, Ian Rankin finds himself agreeing with Guthrie. 

“Right now, we're going through a golden age in Edinburgh-based crime fiction,” he says. 

“We can offer everything from comedy to gothic, historical to futuristic, traditional to experimental. It's an exciting time to be a writer in the Capital.” 

Hard Man, published by Polygon, is in bookshops from April 1, priced at £9.99.

Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals website can be found at:


Tony Black is working off a serious debt to The Pusher at His short fiction is up in this month's Thug Lit and is forthcoming in the fall issue of Demolition His first novel, Paying For It is being touted by a London literary agent, Ken Bruen said of it: "The writing is a joy, in your face, with that wondrous dead pan humour that only the Celts really grasp"        

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