I'll try to make up for a shocking oversight on my part earlier this month, when Allan Guthrie's SLAMMER was issued for Kindle, by reviving Corey's review of same. I could never improve on Corey's take of this terrific twisty and psychological tale, but I will add that the character of Nick Glass is worth examining in fine detail. Nick is one of those guys that people later say, "He always seemed like such a nice guy."
SYNOPSIS: Prison guard Nick Glass is new to the job, and he's completely unsuited to it. He's an obvious mark for both the hardened cons and the veteran guards alike. When his wife and child are threatened, Nick agrees to do one favor for the cons. Of course, one favor turns into many and soon the pressure of trying to hold together and protect his family, as well as do his job, pushes Nick closer to his breaking point and a chain of events that no one, least of all Nick Glass, could have predicted.
REVIEW: After reading the synopsis, you may think you know what this book is about and you may even think you have some idea of how it will progress. You'd be dead wrong. In fact, this isn't even a prison story in the usual sense of that term. 'Slammer' isn't just about a physical prison; it's about all the prisons, external and internal, that confine a young man who suffers bullying and abuse and extortion. While some events occur within the prison where Nick works, Nick himself becomes the figurative prisoner of more forceful characters, and he's also a prisoner to those he loves. This is a dark jigsaw-puzzle of a book where mirrors and memories are not to be trusted anymore than Nick can trust the prisoners out to take advantage of his weaknesses.
Author Allan Guthrie does a staggering job of creating a Nick Glass who is irritating in his weakness but is also pitiable and likeable, a man as fragile as his name. Nick has murky depths beyond his primary character flaw, and Guthrie irrevocably adjusts, sometimes violently and sometimes indirectly, the lights and mirrors to reveal what's swimming in those depths. To say more would be to give away important elements of the story, and this book is too good to mistreat.
Adding to the vise-like pressure of Nick's situation are the claustrophobic scenes occurring either within the confines of the prison or the small house Nick shares with his wife and child. Nick becomes a black hole of pressure, where tension goes in but cannot be released. The author doesn't so much raise the level of tension as he compresses it around and into Nick personally, and the scenes begin to feel more and more confined until it's as if everything that is happening is entirely internal to Nick.
Readers should be prepared to give Nick's story full time and attention because events move quickly and there are time shifts. Casual references made early assume greater significance as the book progresses. Even so, expect moments of 'oh, I see!' mingled with sharp sadness. Nick Glass is an unforgettable protagonist and Guthrie has placed him in a darkly tragic, poignant, and ultimately satisfying psychological thriller.
Available on Kindle and Nook.
September 9, 2011
In general, The Drowning Machine publishes only winning fiction resulting from our annual Watery Grave contest. But some little while back, David Cranmer (aka Edward A. Grainger) promised me an original story to be published here first. Who would say 'no' to that offer? Like his fictional heroes, Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, David is an honorable man, and his word is his bond. He is also the author of the bestselling Kindle collection, The Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. I am extremely proud to present here his excellent new Cash Laramie story, a tale about blind justice, Reflections in a Glass of Maryland Rye.
Reflections in a Glass of Maryland Rye
Edward A. Grainger
“Marshal, you want more?” the pockmarked lad asked.
Through glazed eyes, Cash Laramie tried to remember the waiter’s name. Was it Jim—or Jerry? He wasn’t going to recollect, and he didn’t really care. He settled on nodding then watched the kid pour whiskey in his glass and set the bottle down next to it. Jim, or Jerry, moved to a nearby table where two cowboys sat.
Cash looked in the jewel-toned liquid and saw distorted burned-out cinders in blue orbs staring vacantly back at him. Startled, he looked up at the mirror behind the bar where he met his likeness: tired eyes, week-old stubble on a square jaw, a dusty black Stetson tilted high on his head, and an Arapaho arrowhead dangling on a leather thong around his neck. He swirled the drink and then took a swig, wondering how long he would continue to recall that man—another name he couldn't remember—and that day.
He watched the waiter pouring ale into a mug as one cowboy tossed some coins on the table.
Silver. That was the man's name. How could he have forgotten? Wanted for horse thieving.
A full year had passed since he tracked Silver to a cabin in Upton, Wyoming. As Cash rode up on Paint, the man stood at the cabin door aiming a Henry rifle at him. “I ain’t going back. They mean to hang me, but I’m innocent.”
“You have no choice, Silver.”
Cash slid off his mount on the left, stepped away and pulled a Winchester rifle from the scabbard in one sleek movement.
Silver raised the barrel, firing lead over Cash’s head, and then retreated inside, slamming the wooden door closed. The gun barrel reappeared through a slot centered in the door.
Cash slapped Paint away with a stern “git” and then, ripping off rifle slugs at the house, he darted behind a wagon next to the well. He flinched as potshots rained down from his right, splintering the wagon inches above his head. A puff of gray smoke drifted from the barn loft about two hundred yards away.
He targeted the bushwhacker’s outline in the shadows and triggered his weapon. The slim figure in over-sized dungarees dropped in an ungainly heap to the ground.
A shout rang out from the cabin as the door flung open again, Silver charging hell-for-leather toward the barn, yelling, “Jamie!”
Cash drew a bead on the running mark, and Silver stumbled as the bullets punched him to the ground. He slipped cartridges in his Winchester when abruptly Silver sat bolt upright, firing shots that split the air beside the marshal’s ear. Cash palmed the rifle in his left hand while yanking the Colt holstered on his right hip free and blasted the horse thief, hitting him in the gut.
Silver gasped, dropped the Henry, and kissed the earth again.
Cash pouched his iron and sprinted to the barn. He hadn’t come with the intent to kill.
He slowed as he approached the body and then stopped and angrily kicked the dirt. A young woman lay contorted on the ground with an arm stretched out, blood trickling in parallel. Could have been the man’s daughter. Could have been a much-younger wife. Didn’t matter. She nearly killed him.
He found a shovel and buried the woman in the field behind the barn, marking the shallow grave with a wooden cross.
Paint stood several hundred feet away at the edge of the clearing. He walked over, replaced the Winchester and then led the pinto back to the homestead.
Cash went in the cabin, scouring the rooms for any sign of next of kin. All he turned up was several letters from Arden V.S. Thompson, Esq. from Boston stacked on the table. He pocketed them and left for the barn.
As Cash stood in front of a stall gate, two horses whinnied and stomped their hooves. He identified the chestnut-colored horse as the stolen mare and the other as Silver’s. He bridled each and led both out to the yard where Silver still lay. Cash draped the body over Silver’s horse, binding the man’s wrists and ankles underneath, and then tethered the two horses together behind Paint. He mounted up and they ambled off.
Several miles into the hard trail to Casper, he dug into his vest pocket and pulled out a black cheroot. He scratched a Lucifer to life off his leather belt and fired up the end of his cigar.
A muffled noise came from behind. Cash dropped the match as he swiveled around in the saddle.
Silver’s left eye looked wearily at the ground and his shoulder squirmed under taut ropes. Cash slid off his mount, and strode back to the corpse that seemed to have come back to life.
He bent down and listened as the man sputtered, “Ja…mie.”
“She’s alive,” Cash lied. How in hell this owlhoot was still breathing baffled him.
A faint smile lifted the corner of Silver’s mouth as he spotted Cash’s arrowhead. “You must be the outlaw marshal. Thought you were a bounty hunter. After twenty pieces of silver, eh?” He cackled. “Am … I … gonna … make it?”
They were about fifteen miles from Narrow Creek, where Cash knew a sawbones who might patch up Silver, but that was fifteen miles out of his way and he had no desire to waste the time on a no-good horse thief who would be hanged anyway.
“Wouldn’t you like to think so?” Cash’s teeth clamped down on the cheroot. He grabbed the man by the head and twisted with force, snapping Silver’s neck.
As Cash swished the liquid back and forth in the glass, he knocked over the whiskey bottle the waiter had set on the table.
“Disgrace,” the curly-haired cowboy said.
“Sure is,” the pointy-nosed amigo agreed.
Eyes red-veined with anger, Cash surged out of his chair, smashing his glass across Pointy’s head and throwing Curly a quick hard left that landed on the cowboy’s chin, knocking him sideways to the floor. Curly came up to brawl but was held back by Pointy, his head shaking. “Don’t do it.” Curly hunkered on his heels next to his partner with a sour, pinched look.
Cash removed his badge, sliding it into his shirt pocket. “Got some grit in ‘ya now?”
Both men looked at each other and held their heads low as Cash staggered between them.
“Fuckers,” Cash muttered, tossing a half dollar on the table. He looked to the startled waiter. “I’m paying for these yellow-bellied shits, too.”
The wide-eyed lad nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Cash snagged the whiskey bottle as he angled past his table and out the saloon’s batwings. His boots thudded with a hollow resonance as he walked down the uneven boardwalk. He stepped into the street and untied the pinto’s reins from the hitching post. Placing a shaky boot into the stirrup, he paused as he spotted a smiling couple leaving the Mercantile General. His mind jumped back to a meeting with Chief Marshal Devon Penn not long after he brought Silver’s corpse in.
“Cash, remember the Upton man wanted for horse thieving?”
“Turns out he was innocent.”
“What? He and that woman tried to cut me down.”
“That woman was his wife, and her grandfather is Arden Thompson, a big shot lawyer from Boston. He came to Wyoming to clear their names of theft. What had happened was another fellow stole Silver’s mare, stamped his brand on it. When Silver went back for it, he got accused of stealing his own horse. Certainly, drawing on you warranted the action you took. Odd that Silver didn’t take his chances in a court of law, huh?
“Yeah, odd,” Cash said.
He swung up into the saddle and watched the couple move hand in hand to the next store. Cash glared at the trifling amount of whiskey remaining and then nudged his horse across to the mercantile where he’d buy more rye. A lot more.
Reflections in a Glass of Maryland Rye will be published in the forthcoming ebook, The Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, Vol. II. Watch for it at amazon.com.