Relentless, 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. In 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.
THIS IS THE NORTH. WE DO WHAT WE WANT!
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.