Just Finished Reading: Get Carter by Ted Lewis (FP: 1970)
Jack Carter (played supremely by Michael Caine in the 1971 movie adaptation) has finally found his niche – as a top enforcer for a London crime family. Now he has almost everything he wanted: money, women and stability. So he is less than pleased with the prospect of travelling to his home town in the North of England to attend his younger brother’s funeral. But a mixture of family fealty, guilt and curiosity drives him to attend. Almost from the start Jack senses that something isn’t right with the story everyone seems all too eager to relate to him. Frank’s death was an accident caused by driving drunk. But Jack knows his brother better than that and is certain that he’d never drive drunk even with the best reason in the world. Nor would he have deliberately put himself as risk, in other words commit suicide, no matter the provocation. So why are so many people, powerful crime lords in the North, willing to spend time, effort, money and blood to convince Jack otherwise? Determined to find out what really happened Jack put’s his local knowledge and very special skill set to the test asking very awkward questions and generally being a pain in the arse about things. Little by little Jack is convinced that his brother’s death was neither an accident nor suicide. Only two questions remain – who killed Frank and why? Did he see something he shouldn’t have or did he threaten the wrong people with going to the police? Before the long weekend is over Jack will have his answers to those questions – no matter who he has to intimidate, no matter who he has to threaten and no matter who he has to kill.
I instantly bought this the second I saw it just lying there in my local bookshop. To be honest I had no real idea that one of my favourite movies of all time originated in a classic British Noir novel. But, as is often the case, book and film are rather different beasts. The overall story is the same, family bereavement, funeral, and investigation by hard man, death and destruction, resolution (of a kind). Just about everything else is different apart from the names of the major players. The main action takes place in Doncaster rather than Newcastle (in the movie) and therefore feels far more claustrophobic. Several main players who die spectacularly in the movie surprisingly survive in the book (at least I was surprised by their survival). The thing that raised my eyebrow more than anything else was that the book was far more hard core than the movie. The violence in the book was far more visceral and just plain nasty, there was far more swearing in the book and far more sex too. Doncaster in the book unlike Newcastle (mostly) in the movie was a town in terminal decline, a place almost trapped between its heavy industrial past and its lack of any kind of future. The only really moral character is dead – Frank Carter. Everyone else is either morally neutral or deeply immoral on several levels. Everyone from the police, politicians and the criminals (of which there are many) are singularly corrupt and will practically do anything to anyone to get their own way or to protect their interests. Jack Carter is hardly a hero to admire and freely admits his corruption going back to his childhood – the regular flashbacks are something else absent from the film version. Actually knowing Jack’s and Frank’s relationship (and environment) growing up in Doncaster helped explain the majority of Jack’s actions portrayed in the film - without the benefit of any kind of personal history being shown there. Driven largely by guilt and the fear that his niece (who might possibly even be his illegitimate daughter) has become involved in an industry he views with thinly veiled contempt produces someone who is impossible to ignored but far from easy to admire or even like. I watched the movie not long after finishing the book and managed to see it with a new set of better informed eyes which made the whole experience an interesting one. A recommended read if only to compare the two versions of a story in two different media.