Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Jack’s Return Home (aka Get Carter) by Ted Lewis

If you’ve heard that Ted Lewis’ Jack’s Return Home is one of the grittiest British crime novels ever written – believe it.

Is Jack’s... the original British noir? No. Others got there first, including Gerald Kersh’s 1938 Night and the City.

But are any of the other stories tougher than Lewis’ 1970 book? Put it this way, it would be quite a feat to outdo Jack Carter – an enforcer for two London gangsters – for coolness, street smarts, and violence.

Jack must have rocked many a cozy little English village when it hit the bookshelves.

The story opens with Jack Carter returning to his home town, an industrial city in the north of England, after learning his brother Frank died in a car accident. Jack goes up there to bury Frank and to make sure his teenage niece is all right.

The circumstances of the car crash are fishy. Frank was murdered and Jack sets out to learn why and who did it. This takes him through the seamiest places in the city and to some stately places built by local gangsters – men who Jack knows well from the old days.

Jack, the first-person narrator of the story, is an uneducated poet. He tells his tale in a combination of slangy dialogue and impressionistic images of the cold, wet town.

“The misty rain was dense enough to practically obscure the neighboring blocks. Only dull lights separating soft at the edges were evidence of the other flats,” he says while looking for someone in a public housing project.

A horrible scene is coolly described by Jack when goes to see Albert, a once cocky, small-time hood. Albert is now a broken-down hulk living in a dilapidated house next to a steel mill. A disheveled old lady answers the door. The place smells. A sloppy woman sits on a folding lawn chair near two filthy children. The former tough guy – now only about 40 – is rooted in a chair, drinking. All are watching a crummy TV set. A door to a bedroom opens. A man comes out buttoning his clothes. A woman comes out tying a bathrobe and Albert introduces her as his wife.

Jack’s energy is almost superhuman as he moves around the town getting into multiple fights, putting the clues together and taking his revenge on the men who killed his brother.

Jack’s Return Home was later reissued as Get Carter, the title of the excellent 1972 Michael Caine movie based on the book.

Ted Lewis (1940-1982) grew up in northern England, went to art school, worked in advertising and in animation – including the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” – and wrote nine novels before dying at age 42.

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year, Elgin. I read this one a few years ago. I'd like to revisit it and read a few more Ted Lewis books (most of which are sitting ignored in the stash)!