The most enigmatic novel by the author of Get Carter and the Jack Carter Trilogy, GBH is perhaps Ted Lewis' finest piece of writing and soon to be available for the first time in decades.
Among crime fiction enthusiasts it is a book of near mythical legend, available only via rare book dealers for exorbitant prices. GBH was published as a paperback original at a low point in the career of its author. Within a year of its publication the book was out of print and its author dead of alcohol related disease. Lewis was only 42.
That last and grimmest detail is what perhaps makes GBH so fascinating and tragic. The two novels that preceded it were among Lewis' least inspired. The sharp wit was there but so too was a cynicism and meanness that no longer contained the emotional resonance of his previous work.
And yet while his health was failing, and at the lowest point in his still young career, Lewis wrote the brilliantly sinister GBH, a novel that captures nearly every theme the author addressed during his all too short life. In a pair of narratives you are given "The Smoke" of 1970s London, where a ruthless crime lord is losing grasp on his sanity and empire, and "The Sea" of an English beach town in the off season, where the same man now lives in hiding, his empire in shambles and his identity uncertain.
The classic Lewis themes concerning the contrast between big and small town life, the ruthlessness of organized crime, and the high cost of violence are all present in GBH just as they were in his groundbreaking second novel, Get Carter. So too are the richly drawn characters, whether they are vicious gangsters or boardwalk townies living out their lives in the sleepy off-season. But GBH has something more: a delightfully clever twisting of plot that lends it a near supernatural air.
GBH is not the influential "blueprint" that Get Carter was. It did not influence the way crime stories are told. It is however a masterpiece of crime fiction and a wholly singular novel. Gritty, creepy, fascinating.
It is now available for the first time in North America, and for the first time in hardcover and ebook formats. It's time this novel finds its place in the crime fiction canon.