Book Review – GET CARTER (formerly JACK’S RETURN HOME) (1970) by Ted Lewis

GET CARTER (formerly JACK’S RETURN HOME) by TED LEWIS (1970, Allison & Busby, 286pp) ****½

Blurb: Doncaster, and Jack Carter is home for a funeral – his brother Frank’s. Frank’s car was found at the bottom of a cliff, with Frank inside. He was not only dead drunk but dead as well. What could have made sensible Frank down a bottle of whisky and get behind the wheel? For Jack, his death doesn’t add up. So he decides to talk to a few people, do some sniffing around. He does, but is soon told to stop. By Gerald and Les, his bosses from the smoke. Not to mention the men who run things in Doncaster, who aren’t happy with Jack’s little holiday at home. They want him back in London, and fast. Now Frank was a mild man and did as he was told, but Jack’s not a bit like that …

Get Carter became a seminal British gangster film on its release in 1971. Few were aware of its source novel, Jack’s Return Home, written by Ted Lewis. The book was one of many violent pulp thrillers written in the sixties and seventies that capitalised on the increasing promiscuity of the time. Jack Carter is a fixer for a London mob returning to his northern hometown to bury his brother. The nature of his brother’s death – supposedly a car accident due to heavy drinking – does not sit with Carter, who knows his brother to be a decent man. His determination to find out the real reason for the death of Frank Carter drives Jack’s violent actions through the book. As he closes the net he seeks retribution on all involved. The book on the surface seems like a standard revenge thriller plot, but there is much to admire in the intricacies of Lewis’ writing and his gradual unravelling of the mystery. Written in the first person, it is testamant to Michael Caine’s portayal that it is his voice you hear. Whilst the movie changed some elements of Lewis’ novel – notably resetting the story in Newcastle and the nature of the climax – it retains the core plot progression and atmosphere. Lewis would write two prequels – Jack Carter’s Law and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pidgeon – but he would never better this prime example of British pulp.

Book Review – JACK CARTER’S LAW (1974) by Ted Lewis

JACK CARTER’S LAW by TED LEWIS (1974, Syndicate Books, 222pp) ****

Jack Carter's Law (Jack Carter Trilogy Book 2) by [Lewis, Ted]Blurb: It’s the late 1960s in London and Jack Carter is the top man in a crime syndicate headed by two brothers—Gerald and Les Fletcher. He’s also a worried man. The fact that he’s sleeping with Gerald’s wife, Audrey, and that they plan on someday running away together with a lot of the brothers’ money, doesn’t have Jack concerned. Instead it’s an informant—one of his own men—that has him losing sleep. The grass has enough knowledge about the firm to not only bring down Gerald and Les but Jack as well. Jack doesn’t like his name in the mouth of that sort. It should be an easily solved problem for London’s suavest fixer, except for one slight problem: Jack has no idea where the grass is hiding.

Jack Carter’s Law is Ted Lewis’ follow-up to his highly influential Jack’s Return Home, which was filmed as, and later retitled, Get Carter. This second book in the series is set prior to the first. Whereas Jack’s Return Home gave Lewis’ anti-hero a personal vendetta as motivation for the ensuing mayhem, here Carter is acting in his role as fixer/enforcer for one of London’s biggest criminal gangs. As such, there is little for the reader to root for in a cast of characters that have few, if any, redeeming qualities. That said, Lewis masterfully keeps you engaged through his first-person perspective. Written in the present tense, not a popular style but effective here, the action feels immediate and the tension is kept high. Lewis also has a penchant for long descriptive paragrpahs, punctuated by salty and humorous dialogue. The book is not for the faint-hearted – there are several moments of brutality and cruelty – but for fans of gritty pulp fiction this is a great example of the genre. Lewis became something of a cult figure in the world of gritty crime fiction and unfortunately died young (aged only 42) after a battle with alcoholism.