The clock ticks down on those who travel the mean streets of Edinburgh in Allan Guthrie's Two-Way Split.
Robin Greaves, child prodigy turned thief, needs to reconnoiter the site he and his wife, Carol, and best friend, Eddie, have agreed will be their next heist. But first he has to meet with the private detective he's hired to find out if Carol is two-timing him with Eddie. Pearce, recently out of prison after a ten year stint for murder, needs to find a way to pay back money he borrowed from a loan shark to buy an engagement ring for a woman who then disappeared, taking the ring with her. Hilda, his mother, with whom he lives, needs to find a safer job than the post office where she currently works. Ex-cop Eddie needs to end his partnership with Robin and Carol, both of whom he has reason to believe may be more than a little crazy, but is bound by his lust. Bored out of his mind private investigator Kennedy needs to find a job where he will actually get paid, but apathy keeps him from it. Ailsa needs ammunition for the gun she has bought to stop a violent ex-boyfriend from killing her and her daughter. Don needs to reconnect with his little brother, Robin.
Thieves, ex-cons, druggies, thugs, crazies, opportunists, losers, victims. In this complex, brutal, tightly written, award winning noir, these characters are both connected and divided by their needs and their intent to commit mayhem, get revenge, bring redemption, find love, and cash in. Their activities are marked by the time--posted at the top of each chapter--which serves as a metaphor for the urgency, or perhaps, the wasted prospects of their lives. The intriguing first line-- "four months and twenty-two days"--tells us that time has value, that it is a commodity, a spent coin we cannot get back, and, lest we forget, Guthrie regularly reminds us, and his characters, of its importance: "seventy-two hours," "twenty-four hours," "due yesterday," one-thirteen," "five minutes, that's all," "2:31, according to the alarm clock," "back at 1:30."
While much of Two-Way Split portrays the grim landscape of Edinburgh's criminal underworld and the dangerous people who inhabit it, the story is also lightened by moments of absurdity and dark humor. Unexpected twists keep the plot suspenseful and moving as the characters carry out their business, meeting and reacting and repelling each other like balls on a pool table. The final chapter especially coalesces the principal players, bringing them together in a shattering end to the countdown that is horrific, suspenseful, surprising, blackly humorous, touching, and satisfying.
Two-Way Split is an unusually polished first novel, with no wasted words, no extraneous information, no waywardness. The characters are fresh, with individual foibles and experiences that make them frightening, foolish, tragic, and even sympathetic. The dialog sounds like real people talking as they argue and negotiate, threaten and compromise, and finally win or concede. Two Way Split is richly visual and would make a terrific film with enticing roles for the right--fortunate--actors.