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Old 30th Jul 2003, 11:39   #1
amner
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Default David Peace

Nineteen Seventy Four

Welcome home, Eddie...

Quote:
"A four-hour tour of a local hell: Pudsey, Tingley, Hanging Heaton, Shaw Cross, Batley, Dewsbury, Chickenley, Earlsheaton, Gawthorpe, Horbury, Castleford, Pontefract, Normanton, Hemsworth, Fitzwilliam, Sharlston, and Streethouse.

Hard towns for hard men"
.
My Dad’s family came from Mexborough, a small mining town (ex-mining town now) along the Doncaster/Rotherham/Sheffield corridor. Visiting relatives meant taking in most of these places. Watching rugby league at ‘classy Cas’ meant trips up the A1, the ferrybridge powerstation looming up for miles along the busy road, the river, the Aire, which flows into Leeds, heavy with suds and all manner of crap.

It’s a powerful environment, oppressive and threatening; dirty forgotten towns full of bony angry men shouting at the world beyond their horizon. Long lines of red brick walls and factories, Victorian built, packed with wasted optimism and other peoples’ profits, turned black with soot or the fall out from the chemical works along the Derne and the Calder.

In Nineteen Seventy Four, David Peace returns to the localities of his youth (he was born in Ossett, between Wakefield and Huddersfield), strips away thirty years and dumps us down in a very unpleasant place indeed.

Quote:
"Christmas bombs and Lucky on the run, Leeds United and the Bay City Rollers, The Exorcist and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum … Yorkshire, Christmas 1974"
His protagonist is Eddie Dunford a man who has just landed the job he’s always wanted, North of England Crime Correspondent on the Yorkshire Post. Failure on Fleet Street has translated well on his return to the North, he’s landed on his feet. But he barely gets time to enjoy it before things start to fall apart. The action begins immediately, first page: a press conference at Millgarth Police Station in Leeds (where they used to do the pressers for the Ripper Squad, if you can remember ’76-’80). It’s all steamed up windows, JPS smoke, a dark wet night outside and fat sweaty incompetent bullyboy coppers inside.

Eddie investigates the story (a girl’s gone missing, and she later turns up dead). He lazily puts a few links together with missing girls from the past and gradually a bigger, more frightening picture emerges.

So much for plot. At times (and this can be – if you’re looking for it - the very definition of the stripped down thriller) the story goes out those steamed-up windows. Peace seems more concerned with hitting a handful of socio-political targets than giving us a sensible linear narrative, and it is with this agenda in particular that he scores all his best points. With very little effort he paints a vivid picture of a corrupt society where, just one remove from the simple working man or woman, all is grime and maggots. And he clearly doesn’t give a toss about those he’s attacking, either. The West Yorkshire police are murderers, rapists, arsonists, fully in league with local villains; the Wakefield Metropolitan District Council hand out building contracts to crooks and blackmailers, the chairman of Wakefield RLFC is an unscrupulous bastard. And the name changes are barely cosmetic. Who here remembers Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield? Described brilliantly by Blake Morrison in The ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper as “puffin’, red, ‘alf bald”, in Peace’s book he’s George Oldman; Detective Chief Superintendent James Hobson becomes Maurice Jobson. These people choreograph brutal intimidations of witnesses, they torture, they lie and they deceive. Peace wants blood.

Ah, yes, blood. There is gore a-plenty in Nineteen Seventy Four, and very little of it palatable. I’m a jaded old cynic but last night, as I was rattling through the final frantic fifty pages, I had to cast the damn thing to one side because of one simple horrific phrase.

But then, that’s the rhythm of it … staccato beats interspersed with full-on dialogue and slices of something red and foul. Like Leeds under George Graham, if I’m allowed the anachronism, it’s route one stuff. Peace’s style won’t be to everyone’s taste. One word sentences, one sentence paragraphs, lists. It’s all jackhammer fast and noisy, designed to keep you moving through at pace, and it works wonderfully well. You should finish it within a couple of sittings, eager for more. I’m a glutton for punishment … I picked up Nineteen Seventy Seven as soon as I turned the last page.

For me, it’s an ugly way to reminisce. Off to see the grandparents, sliding past slagheaps and working men’s clubs. Fear’s abroad, home and away, says Peace. And he’s right. But I can’t stop myself now.

Next please.
.
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Old 6th Aug 2003, 11:45   #2
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Default Nineteen Seventy Seven : David Peace

It's happening again...

Is it? The second novel in David Peace’s ‘Red Riding Quartet’ seems to pick up almost seamlessly from Nineteen Seventy Four. Page one:

Quote:
Tuesday 24 December 1974:
Down the Strafford stairs and out the door, blue lights on the black sky, sirens on the wind.
But it’s not the same, it’s not a continuation, not really. The hero, for want of a better word (there are no heroes in Peace’s books) of the first novel was Eddie Dunford, a falling-to-pieces hack on the Yorkshire Post, who uncovers a complex and shady world of porn and paedos, coppers and corruption. His imagined nemesis, the Post’s slimy Crime Reporter of the Year is Jack Whitehead, a man who gets all the breaks, knows all the police, nabs all the best by-lines. Now, in the second book, Jack moves centre stage and we discover just what it is that drives him, or at least what it was that stopped driving him.

We discover, most disturbingly of all, Jack’s demons and his angels. Living, breathing demons, real angels that infest his every thought; we see the chances taken, the people lost, the lives ruined. Jack is a mess, and for a while he tries to absolve himself via his work, but he can’t hide, not from what is inside him. Jack finds himself on the fledgling Ripper investigation, just three or four murders in. Not the best place to find yourself when you’re already so far over the edge.

Also in on the ground floor is Bob Fraser, Mr Clean so-called, a half-way decent copper. If half-way decent means keeping Chapeltown prostitutes as girlfriends rather than pimping them, as his colleagues seem to. He lies to his wife, he assaults suspects, he beats up West Indian youths; Mr Clean.

Like I say, there are no heroes in Peace’s books.

It’s June, and the country is moving inexorably towards the Silver Jubilee. Bob Fraser is asked to try and tie in a prostitute’s murder from across the Pennines to the killings in Leeds. There are some striking similarities, none of which made the papers. Letters filled with stark, surprising detail begin to arrive. It appears to be the Ripper’s work. But Fraser finds paperwork is missing, then he finds it’s been tampered with, then he finds a link between the murdered woman and a death three years previously…

Peace uses real events to drive his narrative. There was a woman found in Preston, the police did try and connect her to the Ripper investigation, letters did arrive claiming to be from the Ripper. As with Nineteen Seventy Four the main characters are simple parodies of real people.

And yet there is also a deep and desperate sense of unreality about this. Peace imbues his text with a heady mix of sex and violence, for sure, but there’s also a considerable amount of beauty in there too. Lines and passages are repeated, motifs flash across like cars on the M62, there’s poetry and love and grief and loss in these pages, all wrapped within some truly terrifying apocalyptic imagery. The style is unrelenting, bang bang bang, all the way through. Again, as with the predecessor, I had to put it down and walk away, this time more than once. As Jack and Bob stumble towards their fate, one out of despair, one willingly we see, where we would normally see a crime novel tighten up and enlighten, the world unravel and blur and fade.

Most crime writers give you revelations in the last few pages, Peace gives you Revelations.
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Old 19th Sep 2003, 17:06   #3
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Default Nineteen Eighty : David Peace

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...that rains morning noon and night and cry who are these faceless people who forbid my entrance to the halls of grief has no one before descended to this sad hollow depths from that place where pain is host and all hope cut off transmission nine murdered in bradford in november...
So starts another chapter in the third, and darkest of David Peace's Red Riding Quartet. Each chapter of black-smeared prose is prefixed by a 'transmission' a mixed and muddled collision of radio reports and thoughts from the drama's major players. Murder victims mutter and moan, the police shout and complain, the Ripper bleats and whines and gloats. It's disconcerting stuff and it works wonderfully well, disarming you - as if you needed it - making you unprepared and uncertain for what lies ahead. Peace recently said that if he'd been allowed he'd have written the whole book in that manner.

No such stylistic dilemmas for me, thankfully, just the facts. Nineteen Eighty, obviously, follows on from the previous novels Nineteen Seventy Four and Nineteen Seventy Seven and picks up all the threads from those stories and then hides them within what looks - at first glance - to be a dissection of the West Yorkshire Police’s attempts to snare the Yorkshire Ripper. The first 100 pages fly by; Peace's protagonist this time around is the man who polices the police, Manchester Assistant Chief Constable Peter Hunter, sent over the Moors (dodging, and failing to dodge, the screaming ghosts of bodies he had uncovered there 13 years previously), into the Belly ... Milgarth. Leeds police station. This opening attack on West Yorks, it reads like one of those thrillers you never imagined people really write: intelligent, literary, dense and full of gallows humour. No signposts here, just full on political intrigue. It's up to you to keep up. But very soon, slivers of darkness and the tell tale punchy prose begin to bite, and we're back in the mire again:

Quote:
Leeds-
Wakefield deserted and barren, Leeds twice that hell and more-
A collision of the worst of times, the worst of hells-
The Medieval, the Victorian, and the Concrete:
The dark arches, black mists and broken windows of industrial decay, industrial murder, industrial hell-
Dead city abandoned to the crows, the rain, and the Ripper.
Hunter is sent to find out why there has been little or no progress in the Ripper investigation, despite two regime changes (Oldman, Jobson, from the previous books, now discarded). These rozzers aren’t the white-hatted peace-keepin' good guys. In fact, there's not a likeable uniform among them. Peace’s coppers are a mix, a metaphor for the men who messed up so publicly during the author's adolescence (Birmingham Six, Ripper inquiry, Stefan Kiszko), the brown-suited, big sideburned, heavy drinking chain smokers those of you who are old enough will remember from the newsclips of the time.

It doesn't take long before the investigation goes off the rails and the characters from '74 and '77 (Eddie Dunford, Jack Whitehead, and the Bobs - Fraser & Douglas & Craven) return to add their voices to the increasingly confusing transmissions.

All the while, Hunter, a man we think we can finally moor ourselves to, is digging. It's not a good move. As he digs he falls deeper and deeper under the spell of the central mystery. Like Eddie and Jack before him it pulls the rug from under his life and, even as he pieces together what he imagines to be the truth, he falls apart...

Nineteen Eighty is not a book about the Yorkshire Ripper. It has the Yorkshire Ripper within its pages (although this is a version of the Ripper, called Peter Williams, one of the names Sutcliffe used in his many many interviews with the police) but the point that Peace is making is that what we think is central quite simply isn't. Sutcliffe/Williams throws a bleak light across the machinations of a corrupt and corruptable body of men, and that's his purpose, plain and simple. He's nothing more than a tool for Peace to make some very powerful observations about motivation and weakness. I haven't read anything as fully satisfying as this in a long time; it surpasses even its wonderful predecessors. Time for the superlatives: it's the finest thing I've read this year.
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Old 2nd Oct 2003, 14:21   #4
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Default Nineteen Eighty-Three : David Peace

Quote:
You drive over one bridge and under another, past the boarded-up pubs and the closed-down shops, the burnt-out bus stops and the graffiti that hates everything, everywhere and everyone but especially the IRA, Man United, and the Pakis-
David Peace's Red Riding Quartet comes to a breathless, confusing and startling climax in Nineteen Eighty-Three. Nineteen Eighty, my read of the year, is just a completely different beast, but here the white-knuckle ride of Nineteen Seventy-Four and Nineteen Seventy-Seven turns bare-knuckle as we reach the bone juddering final instalment.

Eighty Three's trio of intertwining storylines see the Quartet's central themes of corruption and the weary acceptance of a skewed version of justice come to a head. Set during the aftermath of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation, this final volume revisits the claustrophobic downward spirals of institutionalised corruption, and despair in the face of overwhelming tragedy. BJ the rent boy, who has appeared in all four books (good going, most people barely get through one alive); the tortured lawyer John Piggott, a very brief guest in the first book; and Maurice Jobson, the 'top cop' whose happy employment of corruption and brutality set all of this in motion in the first place: they all find themselves on a collision course that can only end with terrible violence.

The pace is relentless and you wonder how Peace is going to fill his 400+ pages, but he does so with consummate ease. The violence once again is truly gruesome (and for some, with the subject matter for the most part concerning the abduction of young girls, may be wholly unpalatable). The style as ever is staccato and machine gun fast. That it holds together and works so well is testament to Peace's technical mastery.

But, most importantly, beyond the style is the message, and here there is a mass of morality that will leave any reader full of questions. Peace grimaces at the bleakly empty imaginations of that awful first Thatcher government, shaking his head as it approaches the sickening zenith of the '83 election landslide.

Quote:
You drive into Leeds, the radio on:
Searching for Hazel-
You push the buttons. You change the stations-
Finding only:
'I think her appeal has always been to baser emotions like fear and greed...'
Only Thatcher-
Thatcher, Thatcher, Thatcher-
No Hazel-
We're children of our surroundings, he's saying, all these people were made this way and now we're all set to become bleaker and even more forlorn; he's despairing, we're all complicit you see. As the book reaches a resounding climax he points the finger directly (well, via Voltaire): Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do. Peace's voice is powerful and unique and he needs to be listened to. I cannot imagine anyone reading these books and being indifferent by the end. This is a full-frontal and unflinching attack on the horror of the Seventies and Eighties, using a fine grasp of controlled anger. Time to embrace him if you haven't already.
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Old 17th Apr 2004, 13:53   #5
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This seemed the best place to put a link to a new interview with David Peace (there's a lot of Peace cross-contamination in the Gordon Burn thread, which Peace probably wouldn't mind, but as he has his own threads, here it must go). It's from the Bookmunch site, which I visit occasionally as it tends to review a lot of fiction I am interested in, and usually gets it (from my point of view) right. The interviews though, are not great: particularly when this guy Stoop (who I'm guessing is the editor as he also seems to get the pick of books to review) does them as his questions tend to be longer than the answers - this Peace interview being a perfect example, or see the Jim Crace too. Worth a look though.
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Old 19th Apr 2004, 9:36   #6
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Quote:
S: You've also been compared (with good reason, I think) to James Ellroy - I think that the Red Riding Quartet and Ellroy's LA Quartet have much in common (broadly and specifically). Are you a fan of Ellroy? Have you met? Do you have any idea what he thinks of your work?

DP: Yes. No. None.
Do you think he's heartily fed up with this comparison?

Good interview, though. Cheers JS.
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Old 19th Apr 2004, 16:33   #7
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By the way, nice comment on Thatcher:

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I am waiting for her to cough her last, but not for artistic reasons.
:D
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Old 6th Aug 2004, 16:46   #8
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I really must read this, as I recognised so many of the places in your review (Leeds has changed, but not that much) - especially as most of the background events happened before I was born/while I wasn't old enough to remember (I was born in Leeds somewhere between books 2 and 3)

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Old 4th Jan 2005, 10:41   #9
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Have finally picked up GB84 after a 9 month wait and might as well post some thoughts as I am about half way through.

It's bleak.

So much so, that I had to pick up some Ellroy for light relief...I'm not joking! It is very well written, gripping and exciting. His use of lanuage, form and style has evolved still further from the Red Riding books, indeed I think Peace is a genuine modernist crime writer. But it is just so unremittingly depressing that it can be a real struggle.

There's another problem, too. As soon as I started on GB84 it reminded me of American Tabloid. Seems like Peace has done his LA Quartet and is now moving onto the historical political stuff. That's fine, but he seems to be following his idol a little too closely for my comfort.

Anyway, a proper review will be forthcoming once I have finished it.
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Old 16th Nov 2005, 14:28   #10
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Default Re: The Red Riding Quartet : David Peace

Hullo,

I think that David Peace is an incredible writer - I can't think how else I'd have got so hooked on four novels suffused with characters displaying (yawn) precognition, chasing (yawn) a murdering paedophile or a (yawn) serial killer ... But, after enjoying the chills, of the places and times he evokes, and his dissection of the confessions produced by torture, and a prose that - scarily - almost seems to justify its religious obsessions about redemption, I still wonder:
Who killed Clare Strachan? The Badger?
And Janice Ryan? Jobson???
Anybody out there who finished these books and agrees or differs?
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