The Guard by Peter Terrin

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The Guard by Peter Terrin

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Pinter meets sci-fi in this tale of two protection officers in a basement carpark with something happening outside.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: August 2012
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-0857050878

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Harry and Michel are very good at their job, even if we might think their job is not that great. They and they alone are responsible for protecting the building they live in. Designed as an impregnable fortress containing many immense, palatial apartments inhabited by the ultra-rich, the only way in is through the basement carpark, where they reside in their own small patch of territory. They are certainly diligent – inspecting their stash of munitions twice a day, even if nothing could possibly interfere with their supply of bullets, and navigating around the large expanse of space where each of the forty floors above them has space for three supercars. But while one seems to be dreaming of things he might not get to witness – promotion to guarding villas in Elysian fields with becoming owner's wives, the other seems to be hearing things that might not actually be there to be heard…

It seems a little cheap to compare this tale of two armed men with proficiency in waiting for something violent to happen with a certain Pinter play featuring two armed men with proficiency in waiting for something violent to happen, but the connections are there if one wishes. Of course Pinter had the ability to leave things – whys, wherefores – unexplored, and the background to this story is similarly oblique, and dealt with very subtly. The world outside seems to be in the middle of some kind of apocalypse, as talk of nuclear winters and other disasters flash across the page momentarily. The two men's supplies come in fits and starts, and word from outside is sought – until they resolve to prove their independence to the people that put them there in the first place.

Their location is done with a brilliant moodiness that really sets the tone of threat and unnerving darkness. The film of this book playing in your mind is a very gloomy, stygian one, edited by many fades to black of varying length, as provided by the exceedingly short chapters on the page – over a hundred and eighty, averaging a page and a third each. We are dripfed information that says the two men might not be standing up to the job completely brilliantly, and that their relationship might not be all we at first assumed. This provides tension that barely lets up, even through the flashes to dreamland that provide about the only colour in the book.

It's not a lengthy book, but whereas some genre writers would have a field-day in providing a novella around this brilliant situation, Terrin keeps us there for the longer haul, and successfully fleshes out his creation to a full-length novel that has much more in common with Pinter – a relentless masculinity, a wilful drive through the darker side of life, and a gripping sense of control over its audience. While we are isolated in just one fraction of a rarefied, seemingly apocalyptic world, and we cannot be sure what the two characters have full control over, the reader is with Terrin to the end, making this one of the more intriguing variants of the thriller you will come across this year.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For another tight, literary but sprightly read in an apocalyptic world, we can definitely recommend The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.

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