Review by Sandra Ruttan

May Baxter isn’t what I’d call a role model for young women. Not only is the sixteen year old married, she married a mean man with a penchant for violence. It would seem May didn’t learn much from her bad choice: She screws around with another man and when her husband, Wallace, finds out she’s pregnant he’s furious.

The apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree. The Baxter family, intent on protecting May, fixate on the one person they believe can help protect her from her vengeful husband. Enter Gordon Pearce.

Pearce doesn’t want the job of protecting May, but the Baxter’s are determined to enlist his help, and desperate people sometimes resort to desperate measures.

Saying anything else about the plot would be a disservice to readers. Guthrie has crafted a thoroughly engaging tale, complete with some twists that are so stealthily deployed they’re pure genius. This is a book where you can’t predict the outcome, yet you can’t deny the author full credit for laying the foundation for the story. No tricks, no shortcuts, just brilliant storytelling.

What captivated me most about Guthrie’s style was how thoroughly developed each person was in the story. There is never a sense of a lull in the pacing, that anything extraneous has been thrown in as filler. I felt I’d really spent time in the head of each of the characters involved. Guthrie uses short time frames and a narrow list of characters, and draws each one so well that you feel you know them.

And the story is intense. I felt as thought my heart had been ripped out of my chest and stuffed down my throat.

My one fear, reading the book, was that May would prove to be nothing more than window dressing. Just a stupid girl, responsible for all this mayhem but oblivious to her responsibility, and while I’m aware that there are many teenage girls who are just that dumb I wanted her to be more than that. In the end, in some respects I felt she was the smartest Baxter of the lot, although admittedly that’s not saying much.

Parts that will make you writhe in agony and others that make you laugh out loud, Hard Man is pure heart-stopping suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

(Really, it’s a love story about a man and his dog…)


Sandra Ruttan's debut novel, Suspicious Circumstances, was released in January 2007. Her short fiction has appeared in Out of the Gutter, Demolition, Mouth Full of Bullets, Crimespree Magazine, The Cynic and Spinetingler. For more information visit her website.

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