David Peace – Red Riding 1974

imgresRelentless, uncompromising, unyielding, fierce, harsh.  I could add many more one word superlatives to try to describe David Peace’s writing.  I had a brief conversation about Peace with a writer who described his writing as “dazzlingly oppressive” which sort of hits the nail on the head, and explains why he’s the writer and I’m not.  wpid-2013-03-24-21.08.51.jpgIn fact, this is all I scribbled in my notebook once I’d finished his book, much less than my normal lengthy notes about plot, character, structure and lots of quotes.  This is not a book to read if you are feeling a little fragile or you are easily shocked, but despite its brutality it feels like such an honest novel.  It left me quite speechless (as is evident from the one word write up in my notebook) and I had a sleepless night once I’d finished it, but I look forward to reading the second book in this quartet like I look forward to picking a scab; you know there’s going to be a certain amount of pain involved, but you can’t help yourself because it sort of feels good.


Eddie Dunford has recently returned to Yorkshire, revelling in the opportunities his new job as North of England Crime Correspondent with the Yorkshire Post has to offer, but still dreaming of a Brighton flat with sea views and southern girls called Sophie or Anna while mourning the death of his father.  He has a lot to prove to himself and his work colleagues who all think he is still wet behind the ears; working in the south doesn’t count for anything in their eyes and his father’s words are still ringing in his ears.

The South’ll turn you bloody soft it will

He is naive and a bit big for his boots but the story of a missing 10 year old girl is his opportunity to make a big impression in his first week on the paper.  The story turns out to be more complicated than one missing girl and involves corruption and depravity within the newly formed West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police, the local council, local business and at the paper.  As Dunford begins to uncover some of the nastiness surrounding this case, he feels conflicted and confused, getting himself into more and more trouble because he can’t turn a blind eye.

The horrors in this book run deep but what Peace does so brilliantly is to show the transformation of Dunford from one of the vulture reporters at the initial press conference for the missing girl, all of them desperate for her to be dead because that makes a much more interesting newspaper story, to a man frantic to uncover the truth at any cost, but with little success other than to send himself into a spiral of crazy behaviour.  He’s not much better than the rest of them, but deep down he does care.

David Peace manages to portray the Yorkshire of the seventies as a lawless, wild west frontier type place, where normal rules don’t apply and men are tough, mean and in charge.  Where you find

..the Strafford Arms, the hardest pub in the North

…Uncle Eric holding court, proud the only time he ever left Yorkshire was to kill Germans.

…a four hour tour of local hell…Hard towns for hard men.

and Zulu, Yorkshire style.

A long way from God’s Own County.

Peace’s writing is lyrical, with a sing-song quality that keeps the pace moving at the same high speed Dunford drives his father’s Viva along to roads of West Yorkshire.  It is incredibly visual (“that face and that hair, up close and near, a melted black plastic bag dripped over a bowl of flour and lard”) which is hard to bear at times considering the violence contained in the 300 pages, but makes the story so much more hard hitting and goes some way to explain why the quartet was adapted by Channel 4.  There is an honesty to his writing.  He is not afraid of the whole spectrum of emotions including graphic descriptions of the physical reactions to those emotions – it is reality, so why is it not seen more often in fiction, despite its disgustingness (is that a word?)?

I read an interview with David Peace in the Guardian where he says “if you want to write the best crime book, then you have to write better than Ellroy.”  I think he’s up there with Ellroy; this work is part genius, part insanity, like riding a waltzer at the fairground and my family knows what happens to me when I do that.  I feel sick yet dizzyingly light-headed at the same time – it’s ever so slightly addictive.

18 thoughts on “David Peace – Red Riding 1974”

  1. Nice review. I agree with your one word superlatives, and the walzer analogy is a good one. It’s a sickening read, unsparing and well written, which is why it’s sickening.

    Ellroy is perhaps too evident an influence, but yet he does equal Ellroy as you say.

    Thanks for the comment on my review back at mine. One of my earliest, hence the massive wordcount on it. 1977 is worse, I’ve covered that one too but haven’t read the others yet. I should, but the brutality is such that you need a while between them.

    1. Thanks Max! I agree, I can’t imagine reading them back-to-back, too much pain hence my reviews next week couldn’t be more different. I had to read a romance to cleanse the palate! Chalk and cheese reviewing – love my eclectic taste…oh hang on, I don’t do vampire, horror YA, chick lit, non fiction, autobiography, biography or misery lit; not that eclectic then! Your review of 1974 was epic, but if readers are interested in it you can all find it here:
      This is the North. We do what we want

  2. I haven’t read the quartet but I have read GB84 and have similar feelings about it. It’s brilliantly written but the horrors in it made me feel physically sick.

    Despite that, I still want to read Red Riding – I must be crazy!

    1. Hi Naomi,
      Yes his books are horrifying, but well worth digging out the sick bucket for! Not read GB84 but we’ve got a couple of the Tokyo books at home too. Would love to read them all, but fear I might injure my eyes or something!

  3. I’ve never read Ellroy, but I’ve heard so many great things about these books! I was hoping to get away with watching the shows as I’m trying to do with Game of Thrones, but it sounds like I really should read the books.

  4. Absolutely loved The Damned United and the TV adaptation of these. I have 74 and 77 on my shelves and am looking forward to diving in at some stage soon. “part genius, part insanity” describes Ellroy perfectly and if Peace achieves a similar intensity to Ellroy’s I’ll certainly be happy.

    1. Hi Seamus, I’ve only seen a bit of The Damned United but I really enjoyed the Red Riding adaptation (the story of 1974 is quite different in the book though). He’s due to write a book about Shankly called Red or Dead (Mr FH very excited about that). I think Peace stands up quite well against Ellroy. His style is certainly similar and the tar black content is equitable. There is something very British about it though and makes me quite glad to have only been born in the 1970’s and therefore not aware of how truly crappy it was back then.
      PS I hope you are suitably impressed by my alphabetical review page – done at your suggestion!

  5. Excellent review, I really agree with your view of the book as brutal but honest. I read the whole quartet last year and think it is one of the best series I have ever read, it haunted me afterwards and I spent ages on various websites and forums because I was left with lots of unanswered questions – but in a good way, in a way which is intriguing and thought provoking.. I really enjoyed the C4 adaptation it was really well done but they changed the plot a bit – I guess they had to to compress the four books into a TV drama. I loved Andrew thingie as Eddie – he is now Spiderman I think, Eddie must have been an early role in his career!!

    1. Hiya Blightly! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I will be reading the rest of the quartet sometime this year, but I can’t cope with them back to back! The adaptations were different – they merged the 4 books into 3 “episodes” I think what is quite disturbing about it is the animalistic and base way he describes so much in this book – it doesn’t appeal to our human nature to keep such things behind closed doors or for them to be alluded to in literature rather than being properly spelled out. If you enjoyed these books, try some Ellroy. Maybe start with the LA quartet, the first of which is The Black Dahlia. So Noir you need night vision goggles!

      1. I have had The Black Dahlia sitting on my bookcase for years and have never got round to it. You may just have given me the push I need! Have ordered I Have Waited and You Have Come from local library on basis of your review, it is so nice to get book reccommendations from book blogs like yours. Someone just need to invent a time expansion machine so I can read all the books ..

      2. I would definitely give it a go – but you need to concentrate, lots of names. Nice that you’ve ordered I Have Waited – I’ve given my copy away otherwise you could have had it, although weirdly I did see a copy today in a charity shop. Time expansion device or faster eye to brain processing kit! or even better, some means of soaking up books – bookosmosis I’d call it!

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