Friday, 26 February 2021

GBH - Ted Lewis


Ted Lewis (1940-82) is the missing master of British crime fiction.  He was born in Manchester, brought up and died (alcohol-related) in Humberside.  He wrote the novel that became the movie Get Carter before he was 30.  I was in Humberside for much of the Seventies.  I am a big fan of Get Carter.  Indeed, I first saw it in the Cecil cinema in Hull.  So how come I had never heard of Lewis until Amazon offered me the ebook?

Now, having read his final work - considered by many to be his masterpiece - I am amazed that Lewis and his work are not a subject of everyday conversation, at least among crime fans.  He didn't invent British noir - let's not forget the great James Hadley Chase, who was very much the British version of James M Cain - but he certainly brought it up to date and turned it very dark indeed.  He is absolutely a pioneer of what we now regard as noir.  And GBH is just about as dark as these things ever get.

George Fowler is a London gangster who has made a very considerable fortune from blue movies.  His gangland rivals, the Shepherdson brothers, have decided to declare war.  The text consists of very short chapters switching between two locations, the Smoke and the Sea, which means the out-of-season seaside resort of Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire, where Fowler is hiding out under an assumed name.  Cleverly, Lewis uses present tense for Mablethorpe, past tense for London.  All bar the last couple of chapters are first person narration by Fowler, which means we are inside his head the whole time, and inside his head is not a pleasant place to be.  He is drinking heavily and may be losing his grip on reality.  Who, for example, is Lesley, the girl who turns up everywhere in Mablethorpe and reminds Fowler of ... what?  Where is Jean, Fowler's wife, who enthusiastically joined in all his activities, from orgies to murder?

Reading GBH was a revelation.  How can a writer this good be forgotten?  I admit, the common as muck name doesn't help, but he is a king compared to others now making a decent living out of the genre.  I must read more - the original Get Carter (originally called Jack's Return Home) for sure, and there's also the follow-up, intriguingly called Plender, described here as "a story of murder, pornography, blackmail and retribution set in the dockside streets of Hull and Humberside."  Oh yes, right up my street.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Joyland - Stephen King

 It's the summer of '73 and student Devin Jones has taken a seasonal job at an old-fashioned funfair in North Carolina.  Dev has just been dumped by his steady girlfriend and throws himself into the life of a greenhorn carny.  But the House of Horror ride was the scene of a mystery death and homes, according to those with a psychic bent, a real horror.

It must have been around the mid-70s when I picked up King's debut novel Carrie.  For the next twenty years I read pretty much every one as it came out.  But IT kind of lost me and I hated the collaboration with Peter Straub - The Talisman, was it?  I think Dolores Claiborne (1992) was the last one I bought.  But I am a real fan of Hard Case Crime publications and when I realised that the soon-to-arrive Later was the third of three written specifically for HCC, I had to get one.

Joyland (2013) is the second of the three (the first is The Colorado Kid (2005)).  I romped through it.  King's plots got a little samey back in the day but the writing never paled.  He started as a writer pushing the envelope and has matured over forty-plus years into probably the best living writer of popular fiction.  The key is, he has never become small-minded or - despite his phenomenal sales and big-budget movie adaptations - in anyway arrogant.  He sets out to intrigue and entertain and he delivers every time.

In summary, Joyland is a coming-of-age story with an overarching mystery and a couple of substantial jolts of horror.  Because it is short - and King is the absolute master of the shorter form - it bowls along merrily right to the end.  It looks like I have some catching up with King to do.  I was always going to get Later when it comes out in the UK.  Looks like I might need to tide myself over with The Colorado Kid.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Night of Error - Desmond Bagley


Been looking for a classic thriller about manganese nodules? Look no further - this is it.  It's also the most thrilling of the four Bagley thrillers I have read over the last year.  Mike Trevelyan is an oceanographer, as is his estranged brother Mark.  Now Mark has died somewhere in the Pacific and Mike has come into some of his notes and samples.  It turns out these samples are not the common or garden manganese nodules which litter the floor of the ocean and are not worth the trouble of dredging them up.  No sir, these are super duper nodules incredibly rich in minerals and worth a billion or more.

So we have our maguffin and off we go on our treasure hunt to the South Seas in a brigantine crewed by Mike and Mark's late father's former commandos.  Out to stop them, and reap the treasure for themselves, are agents of a mysterious South American mining combine who will stop at nothing - not even murder.

Night of Error has everything - nightclub singers, millionaire adventures, leper hospitals, drunken medics, hand to hand fighting, a jaw-dropping twist and a literally explosive climax.  It comes hotly recommended.

Friday, 5 February 2021

The Bradmoor Murder - Melville Davisson Post


You want your murders vintage?  How about this, from 1922, by an American 'master' living in England and obsessed with the English upper class.  The title story is a locked room mystery about ancient curses.  Indeed, all the stories are broadly similar in that they have narrators who have little or nothing to do with the story but who are told what happens by others.  There are elements of the supernatural which recurring characters like Sir Henry Marquis, Head of Scotland Yard's CID, and Sir Godfrey Simon, the world-famous alienist, accept without batting an eye.  Everybody has a peerage or at least a knighthood and the action takes place everywhere from Libya to Belgium.  They are very unusual and quite fascinating.  And there are more of the same available from Bloomsbury Reader