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Jack Trevor Story
193mm x 125mm
Original paperback of 1979
ISBN 0 86130 038 6
|The sixth (and the last we managed) in Savoy's intended 10-book
reissue of Jack Trevor Story novels, published under its original title and illustrated with policemen by Robert Holland. Screwrape Lettuce (Jack's original title, published by Duckworth as Down River) is Story's revenge on the police for beating him up whilst in
custody in 1969. Ironically, one advance printer's copy was caught
up in the October 1980 police purge of Savoy. The magistrate who
signed the police warrants ordered its destruction.
Harry Douthwaite jacket.
For more on Jack Trevor Story (and the events which provoked the book), see Michael Moorcock's obituary piece, Jack's Unforgettable Christmas.
A few copies of this title are still available.
"...ironic...whimsical...volatile, grotesque, brilliantly messylike watching a diamond burst in the hand. An appaling aphrodisiac is destroying the English, secret sex-police are taking over the country, and no one has yet noticed."
PETER ACKROYD, The Sunday Times
"...the entire British police force eats a strain of lettuce which induces permanent priapism..."
BYRON ROGERS, The Sunday Telegraph
"The enterprising Manchester-based publisher, Savoy Books, has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring out in paperback the Collected Edition of Jack Trevor Story's fiction. As his books become available once more (10 are planned at present), it will be possible for a wide audience to appreciate the richness and breadth of Story's writing. Already published are Man Pinches Bottom, a comic Sixties tale of cartoonist Percy Paynter, caught up in a case of mistaken identity in a murder hunt, and a new book, Jack On The Box.
Jack On The Box contains, among many other things, some pertinent comments on the Story style, which one reviewer as long ago as 1955 said was "as difficult to describe as the taste of strawberries." (The book in question was The Trouble With Harry, which was filmed by Hitchcock.)
But like many writers whose commercial success is, at best, intermittent, Jack Trevor Story's publishers have been legion and his works are for the most part out of print. Even Live Now, Pay Later, the classic tale of the world of the "never-never", of hire purchase debt, has been unavailable for something like a decade.
Albert Argyle is the tallyboy of Live Now, Pay Later (1963). Contemporary opinion saw this book and the two which followedSomething For Nothing and The Urban District Loveras part of the Angry Young Man movement.
Like most labels, this one concealed more of the trilogy's qualities than it illuminated, for while Albert's brashness and the verve of Story's writing evoke distant echoes of Joe Lampton and Lucky Jim, both the setting and the author's preoccupation are a long way from John Braine. Albert Argyle is a sharp lad, educated at secondary modern school and, driven to a kind of frenetic entrepreneurial activity by the shadow of the "Agricultural Tractor Factory (which) was Albert's private salt mine. Physically and spiritually it had loomed over him, ever since leaving school."
The factory was where his schoolmates clocked in and out, and one of the most powerful moments in The Urban District Lover comes when Albert realises that Callenderthe ace tallyman and Albert's former employerhas finally succumbed and gone to work there. The personal guile of Callender, and that of Albert, cannot match the power of the clique of local businessmen and councillors that run this Home Counties town, set somewhere between Hertford and Cambridge.
Albert Argyle dies at the end ofThe Urban District Lover in a perverse tragicomic accident that is typical of Jack Trevor Story's power of invention. The book also introduces one Horace Spurgeon Fenton, an author who holds hands with Albert's wife Alice behind the shelves in the public library where she works. Horace is the next of Story's central figures, appearing in I Sit In Hangar Lane, One Last Mad Embrace, and the tender and funny Hitler Needs You, set in pre-war Cambridge and the Fens where the author himself grew up.
A comment in Jack On The Box provides the appropriate phase for the latest shift in Story's work:
Writing about lovesexual loveis, in the end, the thread that runs through all of Story's work from Live Now, Pay Later to Screwrape Lettuce. One of the most powerful scenes in all his novels is the moment when Coral, a new customer, is initiated into the wonders of Callender's hire purchase warehouse in Live Now, Pay Later.
Undeterred by the smutty jokes of the junior salesmen, her excitement grows as she realises how much she can take away on the never-never. Albert Argyle, apologising for his colleagues, takes her into the office to finalise terms33 bob a week. "They laughed together. It was the beginning of a weekly relationship which could last longer than a marriage". For the customer, Albert's attraction is inseparable from the attraction of the goods he sells.
For all his philandering, Albert too, is given a complex sexual awareness by the author. In Something For Nothing (where he gets involved in a trading stamps operation), he is sitting in a pub listening to an all-male group telling dirty jokes:
A curious paragraph, with its mixture of sentimentality and surprise. The art of Jack Trevor Story lies in such mixtures."
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