Ted Lewis

I am going to write about a writer here, but I think I can make the case that Ted Lewis has some rock & roll-ness about him. For one thing, he was once an illustrator who did some of that work on The Beatles' Yellow Submarine movie. For another, he wrote the book, Jack's Return Home, which was made into the film, Get Carter, which has one of the best soundtracks ever (done by Roy Budd). Also, Lewis is always mentioning bands in his crime novels - in Jack's Return Home, he keeps talking about young guys with "Walker Brothers haircuts."

I have read six Ted Lewis novels in a row now, and the one I just finished, Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), has left me breathless. I won't disparage other crime fiction writers I like in praising this book - I hate the way Mojo magazine writers are always knocking artists and bands they have previously raved about, when raving about somebody else - but I just don't know how I will feel about a book by Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, or Jim Thompson after reading GBH. It is more suspenseful than any of theirs, more convincingly hard-edged than any of theirs, and I am having a level of reaction to it that I can't remember having to any book in a long, long time.

Lewis seems to have been an interesting guy. Born in Manchester, England, in 1940. Attended art school, then worked in advertising before turning to animation and getting the Yellow Submarine gig. Wrote an autobiographical novel (which is impossible to find now - all of his books are hard to come by, but copies of this one just don't seem to exist; it's called All the Way Home and All The Night Through) in 1965. Then turned to writing crime novels, the first of which was Jack's Return Home, which was published in 1970. Within two years, there would be two films made from this novel: Get Carter, which stars Michael Caine as Carter, and which is now considered to be one of the finest British films of all time, and The Hit Man, a blaxploitation take on the story, featuring Pam Grier. Went on to write six more crime novels, none of which seems to have been as well received, critically or commercially, as Jack's Return Home. Also did some writing for a British TV show called "Z Cars." Then died in 1982, only 42 years old, and the details of his death are as hard to come by as copies of his first novel.

Besides music, these things always come into play in Ted Lewis's crime novels:

*Pornogrpahy

*Revenge

*Homosexuality

*Violence

*Drinking (people never stop drinking, at all times of day and night)

*Car Names

*Hideouts

Something else that makes Lewis's books stand out is that there are generally no characters in them that are likeable. With Chandler and Macdonald you've got their narrators/consciences Marlowe and Archer, with Jim Thompson you are usually cheering for somebody who has been taking guff from bad people for too long and is now out to get his. But in the novels of Ted Lewis, everybody is rotten. You might root for Jack Carter as he sets about getting revenge on the people who killed his innocent brother, but you don't really like Carter, because you know that if you got in his way he would simply pop your head off. Somehow the lack of a hero in these books gives them a deeper dimension than what you get in the stories with heroes, even if they are anti-heroes.

I could go on for days about Lewis and these books, but since I've said GBH may be the best crime novel ever written (or if I didn't say that before, I'm saying it now), let me just tell you a little more about that one, then I'll shut up. Published in 1980, GBH is narrated (for the most part) by George Fowler, who runs a far-reaching and highly successful blue movie ring. All is going well until Fowler and his wife discover that some of the agents working for them are cheating from them, taking extra money and not reporting it. When the Fowlers start investigating this, they are sent into a downward-spiralling adventure, and soon come to find that they can trust nobody, including the few people they have always been able to trust before. Half of the chapters are titled The Smoke (the city), and these are in the past tense, as Fowler is telling you about the invesigation and all the wild and violent things that happened as a result of it. The other chapters are titled The Sea, these are in the present, and here Fowler is writing from a seaside hideout he has had to retreat to after all the bloodshed and intrigue that came about as a result of his investigations. Every word of every chapter had every nerve in my system standing on end, and by the last few chapters I was shaking as I read. The book is that suspensful, and that good.

One warning before I go: In GBH, as in pretty much all of Ted Lewis's novels, there are seriously violent passages. While these passages are not gratuitous, they can be quite disturbing. If you decide to read some of these novels (you'll have to find used copies - the only one that's in print is Jack's Return Home, renamed Get Carter after the film), proceed with caution if extreme violence gets to you. Personally I am no fan of exteme violence, either in films or books, but I don't hold those moments against these books, because they are in keeping with the tone and content of the stories.

Happy reading.