TED LEWIS – Get Carter. Syndicate Books/Soho Crime, US, softcover, 2014. First published in the UK as Jack’s Return Home, Michael Joseph, hardcover, 1970. First US edition: Doubleday, hardcover, 1970. Reprinted as Get Carter by Pan, UK. paperback, 1971; Popular Library, US, paperback, 1971. Other reprint editions exist. Film: MGM, 1970, as Get Carter (with Michael Caine). Also: MGM, 1972, as Hit Man (with Bernie Casey) and Warner Bros., 2000, as Get Carter (with Sylvester Stallone).
This is what you might call a “revenge” novel, and that’s with a vengeance, if that’s not redundant, and I don’t think it is. As the story begins, Jack Carter, who works for a pair of mobsters back in London, is heading back to his steel-working home town in northern England (no name given, as far I have discerned), where his brother Frank has just died, supposedly in a drink-related automobile accident.
Jack, who tells his own story, knows better. He knows his brother, and he knows the men who run the town, better perhaps than they know themselves. Someone is going to pay, and before the book is over, pay they do.
It does not matter that he and his brother never got along. That Frank’s daughter Doreen, now 15, may really be Jack’s has something to with that, and as a result, Doreen may have grown up way too fast. Also occupying Jack’s mind is that back in London, he has been sleeping with one of his boss’s wives, and once this bit of business is done, is planning to hie off to South Africa with her. He’s a tough nervy bloke, Jack is.
I’ve not seen any of the movies based on this book, a serious error on my part, but I’ll remedy that as soon as I can, starting with the Michael Caine version. You can tell me in the comments whether the other two are worth tracking down.
But whether any of these movie versions can match the intensity, brutality and bursts of mayhem of the novel, I’m not so sure. Also involved are child pornography, cheap sex and a surprisingly careless viciousness toward women.
What you also get is a gritty picture of the working underclass of a small but typical mill town in England circa 1970, when this book first ppeared. The prose reminded me at times of Chandler, while the story is as hard-boiled as anything Hammett might have written. There are not a lot of survivors at book’s end. Jack Carter is cool, cruel and efficient at what he does, and he does a thorough job of it.
But surprisingly enough, it is the ending itself which is the most disappointing, or so is how I found it. The last two pages nearly undo what should have been one crackup of finale, marred by a bit of near deus ex machina — almost but quite. It’s still a doozy, but unless I missed something, it should have been better.
Note: By the time this one ends, you might think that may have been strictly a solo appearance for Jack Carter, but no, he returned in two more novels: Jack Carter’s Law (1974), and Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon (1977), both also recently published in the US by Syndicate Books. Ted Lewis (no relation) died in 1982 at the very young age of 42.