Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Max Allan Collins on Jack Carter's Law

Max Allan Collins will be on a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon 2014 next month in Long Beach, Calif. He'll discuss writers from the past (The panel is called Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras), but I decided to read some of his own work as part of my preparation. I read his Quarry novels, liked them, read the graphic novel Road to Perdition, and liked it.

Then I decided to take a break with Jack Carter Law's, second in Syndicate Books' welcome reissues of the great Ted Lewis' catalogue, and lo, this new edition of Lewis' chilling, funny, deadpan 1974 classic comes with an introduction by—Max Allan Collins.

Collins notes Lewis' bleak sense of place and Carter's deadpan first-person narration. (Carter is also the protagonist of Get Carter, published originally as Jack's Return Home, then retitled after the success of the celebrated movie that starred Michael Caine. He is also the protagonist of Jack Carter and the Mafia Pigeon, coming soon from Syndicate.) Did I mention bleakness?  Here's Collins comparing Lewis and Carter to Collins' beloved Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer:
"Spillane's fever-dream Manhattan is never as real as Lewis's London, and while Hammer is a good guy who defeats bad guys with their own methods, Carter is simply a bad guy with methods."
Maybe that bleakness, that deadpan is what makes so many of Carter's observations so unsettling and so funny at the same time, including this, about the two gangster bosses for whom he is an enforcer and planner:
"The room I am in is all Swedish.  It's a big room, low-ceilinged, and when Gerald and Les had it built on top of the club they'd let a little poof called Kieron Beck have his way with the soft furnishings. Everything about the room is dead right. The slightly sunken bit in the middle lined with low white leather settees ... the curtains that make a noise like paper money when you draw them—everything is perfect. The only things that look out of place are Gerald and Les. So much so that they make the place look as if you could have picked all the stuff up at Maple's closing-down sale."
Jack Carter's Law is. so far, bleaker and wittier than the just about anything in the great Richard Stark's bleak and witty Parker novels. And it has the style that modern-day makers of gangster movies such as Guy Ritchie can only dream about.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Dan_Luft said...

Collins's recovered "trunk" novel Mourn The Living, has a bit of Get Carter to it. It was written in the 60s while Collins was an undergrad and eventually published in the 90s. It's in print now and a lot of fun -but not nearly as you make Ted Lewis sound.

October 15, 2014  
Blogger Dan_Luft said...

I meant to say not nearly as bleak

October 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dan, I think you're right about Quarry. I read all the Quarry novels in about two weeks and, while I very much enjoyed them, they are not nearly as bleak as Collins seems to think they are. Quarry, as a first-person narrator, will crack wry jokes where Carter will have rueful, unbelieving--albeit sometimes funny--thoughts.

I suppose the tone and mood of Lewis' books are a bit like Derek Raymond's, no shock, since Raymond was a Lewis fan, and the new Syndicate editions contain a testimonial from him.

October 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think the next Collins I'll read will be True Detective, the first in the Nathan Heller series. I like its opening chapter.

October 15, 2014  

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