At first glance this novel seems to be a routine police procedural with a veritable army of coppers on the case. Scotland Yard, CID, local and area policeman are all enlisted to help solve the bludgeoning death of a local girl who has become sort of a reality TV star of the 1980s. She was well known for being a panelist on "The Seven O'Clock Show", a game show and had made several TV commercials as well. Another story of a local girl who "made it big" in the eyes of her hometown fans. On the surface Katie Steelstock is the "favourite girl." But her brutal death will lead to the truth of who she really was. The routine case becomes extremely involved and will uncover blackmail, suicide, sordid photographs and explode a houseful of skeletons in closets among the townspeople. Turns out the favorite girl was really rather a bad apple. And rotten to the core.
|UK 1st edition|
(Hodder & Stoughton , 1980)
Lurking in the background is Jonathan Limbery, a volatile and outspoken young man who rants his opinions in a weekly newspaper. When he isn't mouthing off in print he is disrupting church services with his vehement accusations. Limbery has amassed a following of young schoolboys who admire his rebellious nature and think he can do no wrong. They are eager to defend him when he becomes the prime suspect in the death of Katie. Seems he was not only outspoken in his political diatribes but was a jealous lover as well. The townspeople whisper their own accusations of what goes on in the boys' choir Limbery has organized with his coterie of young admirers. And it isn't the choice of songs they're worried about.
|US first edition (Harper & Row, 1980)|
Gilbert always finds moments of humor amid what turns out to be quite a sordid story of crime and base human indulgences. Many of the characters have a sharp and biting wit and there are several zingers I could quote but they would fill up pages more on this post. Most surprising to me was a rare and compassionate depiction of a young gay teenager's secret desires and the tragic aftermath that follows a brazen declaration of love. The Killing of Katie Steelstock is a rarity in crime novels. Satirically funny on one page, a few pages later shocking the reader with descriptions of seamy activities, further on it tugs at your heartstrings or elicits a pang of grief. Gilbert works his way through a gamut of raw human emotion in this very fine novel that works both as a mystery story and a mainstream literary work. Highly recommended for those with discriminating taste.
Silver Age Bingo card update: Space I6 - "Book with a woman in the title"
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.
I wrote the first draft of Fast Lane in 1990, although the title back then was In His Shadow. This was the first piece of fiction I wrote with the intent of seeing it published. Before then I fooled around at times writing short stories, usually badly aping Ross Macdonald’s style. I knew the stuff I was writing then wasn’t any good, and it eventually all ended up in the trashcan. In fact, my first attempt at Fast Lane was writing it like a Lew Archer novel where it was written from the point of view of my white knight detective who uncovers the sins of the celebrity (and very psychotic) detective, Johnny Lane, and like all my other attempts back then to ape Macdonald, it ended up (rightfully) in the trash. Things changed, though, after I read Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson, followed quickly by Swell-looking Babe, Pop. 1280, and After Dark, My Sweet. These noir novels from Thompson opened my eyes to other ways of doing things, and helped me realize that you can do whatever you want as long as you can make it work. I now saw a new approach to Fast Lane and began finding my own voice, and by the time I was halfway through I started to get excited that I was writing something that could be published.
My apologies for not posting last week. I was at Bouchercon and was so caught up in the festivities that I forgot to post. Or it might just be my old age.
I believe that tomorrow Erin will be posting on Bloody Murder, the ad hoc panel that a group of us threw together to celebrate writers on the margins - writers who haven't gotten the exposure or support they deserve. The event itself was amazing. I don't remember how many authors participated, but I know it was over 40. Overall a pretty fantastic event. We should shirts and raised $500 for WriteGirl. MWA graciously provided free Bloody Marys during the event. It sounds like an event like this may become a regular at Bouchercon. This situation was turned into a very positive event and I applaude Bouchercon 2014 and Ingrid Willis for their cooperation and efforts to make it happen.
And then a funny thing happened. Catriona McPherson won the Anthony Award for the Best Paperback Original. I was floored. Of course I loved the book. Catriona's writing is amazing. She absolutely deserved the award. And I can tell you, there are more of these in the pipeline - contemporary suspense stand alones. Two published and three more coming.
For me personally, I suddenly felt legit. Like many authors, I believe a lot of acquiring editors are filled with doubt about our talent. Let's face it, not every book or series we acquire becomes a best seller. Heck, most of us would settle for a good solid seller. We may be acquiring books that we feel are solid and deserve to be published, yet they fail in the marketplace. Winning an Anthony Award is one of those confidence builders that helps to heal the broken heart for those books that didn't commerically succeed. I have to say that I am extremely proud. Of Catriona. Of the Midnight Ink authors who attended the awards and were there to cheer Catriona on. Of the whole Midnight Ink family - our authors, our editors, our sales people, our publicity and marketing departments. Pubbing a book is a group effort. And we all should be basking in glory. I do have the best job in the world. Now if I can only figure out the magical formula to make all my babies succeed.
I am going to wrap this up with a link to the speech Ursula Le Guin made. She was honored for Lifetime Achievement by the National Book Awards. Here is a transcript. Take a quick peek. She is calling out publishers for acting as profiteers rather than creating art. Powerful words by a highly respected pioneer. It's a difficult balancing act - publishing the very best that comes across my desk, yet being constantly aware of the market and the chances for financial success. Ms. Le Guin certainly gives us in the industry something to think about.
Have a great rest of the week y'all.