Along with Derek Raymond, Ted Lewis brought British crime fiction to its gritty modern glory. Best known for his London enforcer, Jack Carter, he instilled working class anger and attitude in his books, before dying at forty. Along with the Carter books, Syndicate Books has republished his last and what many consider his best book, GBH.
The title refers to the acronym for grievous bodily harm, which there is plenty. The book moves between alternating chapters, entitled The Sea and The Smoke. We begin with The Sea, with our anti-hero George Fowler hiding out at an off season resort town, under an assumed name. He’s licking some wounds, possibly waiting for a confrontation, trying to piece together what happened.
We next explore The Smoke chapters, which take place earlier in London. They start out with Fowler in his previous role as head of a porn syndicate. He has the finest clothes, tons of cash, a smart, sexy wife (it’s hard not to be reminded of Helen Mirren in The Long Good Friday when reading her), and someone embezzling from him. The first time we see him in this period, he is trying to ferret out information on who it is, involving electrical wire and a tub of water. It gets more bleak and rough from there as Fowler alienates those around him.
It is best to read GBH in as few sittings as possible. The chapters are so brief it, can be difficult to keep track of the characters at times, if you just read one or two of them. When you hit that last hundred, you’ll want to push right through.
Lewis is a master at handling violence on the page. At the beginning of the book, he rarely shows it, though it is often strongly suggested. Brutality hangs over the story, ready to destroy someone at a moments notice. As The Sea and The Smoke chapters dovetail and interlock, violence does drop in graphically and often with as much emotion as shock. It reflects Fowler’s paranoia, focusing to full dread.
GBH is one of the best pieces of Brit crime fiction ever written. Syndicate deserves a medal for finally getting it over here to The States. It is sad to think of as his last book, making one wonder what he could have accomplished if he didn’t die so young.
You can find copies of Ted Lewis’ last novel, GBH, on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.