GBH by Ted Lewis reviewed

tedlewsiGBH
Ted Lewis
2015
SoHo Press

Best known for Jack Carter, the titular gangster of GET CARTER, the classic that propelled British crime fiction into a dark new direction, Ted Lewis’ subsequent body of work never gained the wider recognition that it rightly deserved. Thankfully, SoHo Press has been releasing Lewis’ work to ensure his influence on a new generation.

In Lewis’ final novel, GBH, snuff film king George Fowler narrates two intersecting stories. In the swinging 70’s London, Fowler’s blue film production and distribution is at its peak. His love, Jean, helps with the business and actively participates in the films. Fowler intuitively senses an undercurrent of betrayal growing amongst his associates and aggressively eliminates anyone he feels he can’t trust. Like any good story steeped in Greek tragedy, Fowler never imagined his empire crumbling. The narrative jumps to his present circumstances where Fowler, now a paranoid shut in, is holed up in the seaside town of Maplethorpe, drinking his days away. A beguiling encounter with a familiar looking woman spins Fowler’s pickled brain into frantic overdrive as he senses everything closing in on him once again.

The use of dueling plotlines proves a double-edged stylistic choice, creating a momentum living and dying by spare prose and staccato bursts that is riveting, yet at times confusing.

GBH stands as Lewis’ final book, originally published just in the UK a few years before his premature death. His prodigious alcoholism and hindsight have provided fans with plenty of parallels to make assumptions about Lewis’ final years. If they were anything like his protagonist’s anxious guilt-ridden days, Lewis lived hard, just like the characters that filled his work.

Tim Hennessy

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