RARA-AVIS: Boldt by Ted Lewis

From: DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net
Date: 15 Jun 2007

Did Ted Lewis, author of the great Get Carter and GBH, ever even visit the US? It's certainly not evident he did from Boldt, his only book set in the States.

Most of his mistakes about the US are minor enough I doubt they'd be noticed by any Brits reading it who had also gotten their impressions of America from books and movies. I mean, he didn't have the cops drinking tea, though he kind of overdid the drinking of coffee to signify Americanness (not done ironically like, say, David Lynch -- just saw he now has a signature brand of coffee). It was mostly little stuff. Several times, Boldt tells someone to piss off; no Americans except affected Anglophiles said piss off in '76. They once go up the stairs to the first floor, which is the second floor over here. There are several long scenes of all of the men drawing tubs and taking baths, never showers. Although the city is fictional, Des Moines is once referred to as being the closest big city, which would put it much further than a couple hour drive from abandoned ranches in the desert. As I said, small stuff, but it adds up.

Ironically, he describes a British-themed bar in his unnamed midwestern US town:

"Murdock take a left and then another and stops outside a bar called Swinging London. Of course it's topless and of course its decor is America's idea of what the British Travel Association wants America to think of Britain, . . ."

While Lewis's is not the US any travel agency would promote, it is the US that cheap exploitation movies and TV shows of the time were projecting. The cover of the 1980 US paperback of the 1976 book promotes it as being "In the Bullet-Hard Tradition of Dirty Harry." It's actually far closer to Starsky & Hutch. Clark's, a neutral zone criminal, mostly black bar where corrupt white cop Boldt hangs out, is straight out of a Blaxploitation film. Boldt swings back and forth between being one of the corrupt, racist cops in the background of one of those films, now the main character, and a lone wolf cop whose corrupt boss gets in the way of his doing his job. This central hypocrisy of Boldt constantly complaining about his boss taking money from the same people he's taking money from is never really addressed. The same goes for his racism. He seems fine in general with blacks, screwing whores of all races, hanging out and getting along in black bars, but gets really out of sorts that the black hit man he is stalking
(against his boss's wishes) is screwing a white woman he wants, constantly referring to him by the N-word, but never using it in regard to any of the other numerous blacks in the book. This could have been handled as his true racism coming out when it affects him directly, but this seeming disparity is never recognized, much less dealt with.

Eventually the mistakes, but even more so the extreme reliance on cliched stereotypes became too much for me. And that's kind of a shame, since there is a plot with promise underneath it all, with a nicely handled turnabout at the end of Part I. And Part II, the last 30 pages of the 200 page book, a tight little short story of the aftermath, shows how well Lewis can write when he gets down to it. Oh well, guess I'll stick with his Brit books. Still have three of those to read.

Oh, there was an interesting thread running through the book. I've never thought of Lewis as being particularly Chandlerian -- Carter only read Farewell My Lovely in the movie, not the book -- but he must be a fan. There are a lot of passing references to his work: Chandler Hotel, Florian, Sternwood Estates, plus a character named Hammett.


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