Sunday, 22 November 2009

Book Review: 1974 & 1977 by David Peace

Dark, violent and gritty, words to describe 1974 and 1977, the first two novels in David Peace's The Red Riding Quartet. In all of my years with 'my head in a book' I have never got round to reading anything strictly labeled as crime fiction. I've always gravitated to the fantastical in genre literature, (science fiction, fantasy and supernatural horror) but I love tense and atmospheric Film Noir and related sub-genre's, so it was only a matter of time before I dabbled in this popular field. These two novels are a good starting point if your looking for fast moving but quality writing, with intensely bleak poetic and atmospheric seasoning.

From the first page of 1974, David Peace's debut novel, you're plunged head first into a sort of hell, Yorkshire in the 70's; narrated by a young and naive journalist, Eddie Dunford, who uncovers a labyrinth of corruption, (1974 is also a conspiracy thriller) while attempting to report on a series of grisly child killings. There are no good guys in this story; the police are the equivalent of a Central American death squad, torturing, ethnically cleansing gypsies and killing with impunity and Eddie's fellow journalists on the Yorkshire Post are alcohol drenched hacks with a penchant for misogyny. There is no hope for salvation either, only brutal vengeance. The writing is terse, dialogue driven (mostly obscenities) and moves at a frantic pace, but still manages to be darkly poetic. 1974 (and 1977) should be read as a master class on how to write using a minimum of words, but conveying a thick miasma of atmosphere, almost gothic in intensity.

1977 is more of the same. But David Peace is becoming more ambitious here, moving away slightly from genre conventions, sometimes using experimental syntax, almost 'stream of consciousness.' The gloomy religious references, drawing from the parable of Job from the Old Testament and religious themed horror movies from the 1970's (The Omen in 1974 and The Exorcist here) is more obvious. But the novel is as tightly paced as 1974, a page turning crime and conspiracy thriller based this time (although still fictional) on real events-The Yorkshire Ripper murders. Narrated by Detective Sergeant Bob Fraser and Jack Whitehead, crime correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, (both minor characters from 1974, both desperate and flawed men) there is no let up in the violence-most of it carried out by the police against West Indians and the prostitutes working in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. The novel finally ends in darkness and despair the only way it could, without even the savagely cathartic retribution of 1974.

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