Ted Lewis‘ Get Carter, originally known as Jack’s Trip Back, was a turning point in British crime fiction. At the time of its publication, the U.S. was known for the tough, hard boiled style, while English crime was associated with the more genteel drawing room side of the genre that Agatha Christie made popular. Lewis put a shotgun in Jack Carter’s hand, blowing away the Venetian vases and the stereotype.
To call Jack Carter an anti-hero is putting it mildly. Both calculating and reckless, violence is often a convenient tool for him and he makes the Mad Men guys look like feminists. Carter works as an enforcer for a London syndicate run by Gerald and Les Fletcher. He is also involved with Audrey, Gerald’s wife, who he plans to run away with, along with a chunk of the Fletcher Brothers money. He is somewhat of an English cousin to Richard Stark‘s Parker, with less distance from the reader.
In Get Carter, Jack goes back to his home in middle England, to attend the funeral of his brother Frank. Frank died in a drunk driving accident, though he wasn’t known to be a heavy drinker. This puts Carter on the road to answers and revenge, running up against the town fixer who is connected to the Fletcher Brothers.
The book gives a bleak look at England. The pretty countryside, associated with those English cozies, is populated and polluted with smokestacks. Most of the denizens of the town are rough, ugly, and seem to have a touch of inbreeding to them. It’s no wonder Carter would do anything, including crime, to get out. Yet we see how it is a part of him. Much like Hammett and Cain, Lewis used the hard boiled novel to make subtle social commentary on his country. Despite his many dark qualities, we follow Jack Carter because of his willingness to be his own man in both the criminal and British class system.
Get Carter proved that while the U.S. may have invented hard boiled crime, they didn’t have a patent on it. One can’t help but wonder how this book hit British readers in the late Sixties. A new publisher, Syndicate Books, has released Get Carter, following it with the two others in the Carter trilogy, Jack Carter’s Law and Jack Carter And The Mafia Pigeon. I can’t wait to spend more time in Jack Carter’s world.
Get Carter is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.