Now, I know that normally I do my book reviews at the midpoint… but having a few reviews under my belt by now, I have come to the realization that that doesn’t always work. Sometimes there is no secret to be uncovered so there is nothing for me to guess at. Other times I am just too enthralled in the story; the thought of stopping and then taking the few days to write a review is just too hard! Sometimes a book is just so messed up that if I stop reading I may start to realize just how fucked up it is, and I will never start reading again. That was the case for Nineteen Seventy Four by David Peace.
Nineteen Seventy Four is the first of four in a series entitled the Red Riding Quartet. The series deals with police and political corruption in Yorkshire and was inspired by the Yorshire Ripper murders – active between 1975 and 1980. It’s the story of Eddie Dunford, The Evening Post’s new crime reporter, promoted days after his father death. Right away Eddie gets in over his head; trying to connect the disappearance of a little girl to those of other missing girls, he is told under no circumstances to explore the connection. Days later when the little girl is found dead with swan wings stitched into her back Eddie is more determined than ever to find the connection. Unfortunately, Eddie is a coward and not too bright… not really the guy to bring the underhanded politically connected to light. The story itself is kind of insane and I am not sure that I could even try to begin to explain it. Eddie goes down a rabbit hole that connects just about everyone to the murder; from construction workers to police officers, business men and local politicians. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with any of the information he obtains, half of it comes to him by accident, and he can’t seem to stop getting beat up. All the while his mother is in mourning and trying to get him to come home.
The story is incredibly convoluted, although it mostly comes together in the end. I know a guy who has read all 4 books and he says that the stories make more sense when read as a whole – so I guess I will have to get on the rest of them soon! Cause they weird thing is – even though it was confusing and horrifying; I devoured the book. It was compelling and intriguing… and I needed to know whether Eddie even made it out alive (it was touch and go many times).
I had never heard of David Peace before being recommended this series, so I did a bit of research on him before writing my review. He seems like a pretty interesting character. He grew up in Yorkshire around the time of the Yorkshire Ripper Murders and became obsessed with the murders, even to the point of being afraid that his father might be the ripper. It turned out to be one Peter Sutcliffe who was convicted of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder another 7. It was a pretty scary time in Yorkshire and left a lasting impression on Peace, as he says in an interview with Crime Time “I wrote about Yorkshire in the 1970s and early 1980s because that was where I was and when I grew up and I still have the scars.” Peace also goes on to talk about the responsibility of being a crime writer; “I believe the crime writer, by their choice of genre, is obligated to document these times and their crimes, and the writer who choose to ignore the responsibility is then simply exploiting, for his or her own financial or personal gratification, a genre that is itself nothing more than an entertainment industry constructed upon the sudden, violent deaths of other, innocent people and the unending, suffering of their families.” Normally I am not so interested in an author’s background – but the uniqueness of the horror that Peace writes had me intrigued. He is critical of most other crime writers, while praising the efforts of a few - but he is very specific about his criteria for how crime should be written “Crime is brutal, harrowing and devastating for everyone involved, and crime fiction should be every bit as brutal, harrowing and devastating as the violence of the reality it seeks to document. Anything less as best sanitises crime and its effects, at worst trivialises it. Anything more exploits other people’s misery as purely vicarious entertainment. It is a very, very fine line.” It was very interesting to read these statements given that I found Peace’s descriptions of the crimes in his book as particularly gratuitous – he wants his writing to be ‘brutal, harrowing and devastating’ so how does he even determine what is crossing the line? How does one determine how much and which ‘truth’ should be given out? Especially when one is writing crime ‘fiction’?
It keeps making me laugh that I rated this book so highly yet I seem to be pretty disparaging about it. I definitely do not recommend it for everyone, maybe only fans of pretty descriptive crime writing, or rather people who don’t mind it. I am looking forward to finishing the series. I want to know where Eddie ends up in life… I don’t expect he makes it very far….