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.

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