Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lewis - Jack Returns Home

Jack Returns Home, Ted Lewis, Pan Books, 1971.

English mob enforcer Jack Carter returns to his home town to investigate his brother's murder. It is a classic setup, and used brilliantly here. The book covers roughly three intense days from a Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Jack digs through his past, meeting old friends and old enemies. He gets closer to the truth of his brother's death. His bosses send people to order Jack to stop his activities. When he refuses, these friends are told to bring him back any way necessary. Jack meets his niece, his brother's co-workers and mistress. He peels layer after layer off the sordid side of his old town. As the book races to its climax the action becomes increasingly brutal and unforgiving. Sub plots pile up; the tension is ratcheted ever higher. Jack has the knowledge and the capacity for violence to keep pushing forward with almost no allies against increasing number of enemies.

As Jack moves through the town he recalls his past, his childhood, old friends long gone, the old neighborhoods as they were in his youth. It reads like a memoir. How much of the author's own past is used as material in these sections? We may never know, but the detail and precision of the writing reads like the author had intimate knowledge of these people and places.

The book is as much about Jack's personality, and his relationship with his brother, as it is about the revenge plot. All the characters are effectively drawn. The dialogue is crisp, the scene setting vivid. The plot is almost flawless in its construction. 'Jack Returns Home' is one of the greatest crime novels ever written.

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