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Pan, London, 1973
(first published by Michael Joseph 1971)
(price: ?; 224 pages)

The blurb on the back:

'Now I knew I was in hell. Staring into the car was a face I hadn't seen for fifteen years. The face of Brian Plender.'
Brian Plender. A man who has made a career in corruption, whose business is blackmail ...
And Plender bears a long-standing grudge ... against Peter Knott, a photographer with very bizarre sexual tendencies ...
With relentless and ruthless cruelty, Plender sets out to even the score, using all the vicious means at his disposal - perversion, pornography and murder ...

'Excitements galore' - the Evening News

opening lines:
The double-glazing shuddered. A grey wet wind screamed up the estuary and into the city centre, rocked trolley buses and swept old cabbage leaves along the cobbled docksides.

Ted Lewis started out in animation (he worked on Yellow Submarine), but the success of his first big novel changed all that and he became a full-time writer instead. That book was Jack's Return Home which, when filmed as Get Carter, pretty much set out the style of 1970s screen thrillers in Britain: out went the glamour, out went the avuncular plods, in came dirt and violence and a world in which everyone was either corrupt or cynical.

Plender was Lewis' second novel and it's pretty much more of the same. But, as a psychological study, it's even better. There are only really two characters, Brian Plender and Peter Knott, who had a wary, unequal friendship at school fifteen years back, and who have since lost touch. Plender became a private detective and then got into large-scale blackmailing and intimidation - which turns out to be good training because it means that when he stumbles across Knott's nasty little secret, he knows how to use it to extract maximum revenge for childhood wrongs. The story is told in alternating sections by the two of them, and it's as gripping as it is gritty.

Two other factors are intriguing. One is the almost total absence of period detail; this is geting quite old now, but so few are the references to the real Britain of Ted Heath that it doesn't show a sign of aging. The other is the fact that - away from his private sleuthing - Plender is also a medium-sized cog in an organization known as the Movement, whose workings are so shrouded in secrecy that the only person that he knows to be above him in the hierarchy is the one who gives him his orders. This whole thing is in the background, and all we really find out is that it's a structure whose function is to control the business of politics by any means necessary, but it sets a lovely paranoid tone for the whole book.

If you imagine Philip Marlowe as a bent copper working for the Sweeney in a grim Northern city, you won't be far off the mark.

Make a very nice film or TV show, if anyone's interested.


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