Having directed the greatest of all British gangster films in Get Carter, it’s perhaps no surprise that Mike Hodges’ crime writing is equally edgy, innovative — and authoritative. In that film, the criminal protagonist cuts bloody swathe through the criminal underworld of his home town, a home town which with its various criminal activities (prostitution, gambling and endemic corporate malfeasance) is a microcosm of the London he has left behind, but with a harder, more resentful Northern edge. Ironically, the northern ambience so vividly conveyed by Mike Hodges’ film is reminiscent of the influential novels of John Braine, which similarly show the area as quite as cut-throat and dangerous as the capital. It might also be pointed out that Jack Carter is vaguely related to John Braine’s shark-in-a-suit arriviste Joe Lampton in the sense that the achievements we see both men ruthlessly carving out for themselves are torn away by the end of the narrative (the difference being, of course, that Jack Carter has virtually no moral compass, so there is no fall from grace; Joe Lampton is unable to fully cauterise the core of humanity underneath his take-no-prisoners exterior, but ends up unhappy and dissatisfied rather than dead; in the original novel, Carter’s fate is not so clear cut). And in every way, that film is the product of Hodges’ impeccable auteur credentials – his is a laser-sharp (and complex) approach to the crime genre, replicated in the three sections of this mesmerising collection. The protagonist of Bait is a low rent PR man, the eponymous ‘bait’ utilised by a tough detective involved in a cultish enterprise imported from America. Grist focuses on a writer (one is reminded of the novelist anti-hero of Hodges’ film Pulp) who has no compunction about utilising real-life individuals for his novels — but finds that there is a high price to be paid. The final novella, Security, features an American actor who has no faith in the film he is engaged in making and opts to stay cloistered in his upscale hotel, but the hotel itself becomes a hotbed of violence. As these synopses indicate, Hodges is uninterested in utilising well-worn tropes of the crime genre, and has come up with three startlingly original scenarios.
Bait, Grist & Security by Mike Hodges is published in November by Unbound