Monday, December 21, 2015

A Detectives Beyond Borders best book of 2015, reissue department: GBH

The toughest parts of Ted Lewis' 1980 novel GBH make Jim Thompson look like a bit of a wuss, yet the book is filled with the same sort of mordant, observational humor that marks Lewis' other crime classic, Get Carter (Jack's Return Home).
That Lewis maintains the humor through the novel's horrific events, building tension, and explosive conclusion is the book's most distinctive feature; call it the Ted Lewis touch.

The novel's short chapters alternate between the narrative present and the recent past; George Fowler, a ruthless gangster who makes his money from pornography, narrates both. In the "past" chapters. Fowler and his diminishing band of minions in London are desperate to find out who is betraying Fowler. In the present, Fowler has gone  to ground under an assumed name in an English seaside town. And that's where the cutting comedy comes in. Lewis is no likelier to have been hired to promote Grimsby or Mablethorpe than he would have been to tout Scunthorpe or Newcastle.

That Lewis is able to induce a certain pity or sympathy for what has to be to be the most morally bankrupt gang of characters ever assembled between covers is not the least of his magic. (In Get Carter, for example, Jack Carter is activated by the noble passions of avenging his dead brother and saving his niece, who may in fact be his daughter.  George Fowler, by contrast, wants nothing more than to save himself, no matter how many of his subordinates he has to have tortured or killed to do so.) And that's why GBH is a Detectives Beyond Borders best book of 2015/
Jordan Foster discussed Ted Lewis as part of a panel I moderated at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.,  called "Beyond Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Macdonald."

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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Blogger RTD said...

"Mordant" humor. I like that phrase. I wish I had used it (as it would be so applicable) in my discussion of Arnaldur Indridason's Voices:
When I read Indridason, "mordant" often comes to mind, even though I think he is not attempting humor; but, you have to admit, a dead Santa with pants at his ankles (and other problems) is oddly funny. Have you read Voices?

December 22, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read a bunch of Arnaldur's books, though not the last few. And I think mordant humor is very much part of what he does. If I'd had Arnaldur in mind when I wrote this post, I might have called Ted Lewis' humor dark rather than mordant.

July 07, 2016  

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