Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Heir apparent to Dasheill Hammett (Books Nineteen Seventy-Four - Book I of the Red Riding Quartet by David Peace

The first volume of David Peace's Red Riding Quartet, Nineteen Seventy-Four, is a violent thunderclap of a novel. It details the search of a rookie crime journalist, Eddie Dunford, for the murderer of a school girl in Yorkshire during the week preceding christmas. It becomes apparent to Eddie that the murder may be one of a string of crimes and Eddie begins connecting the dots between them and powerful people in business and law enforcement. Despite the fact that he has only just buried his own father, or perhaps because of it, Eddie begins a stubborn search for the truth in a world of savagery and exploitation that is way beyond his ken.

Peace's novels, were made into a strong trilogy of television films in 2009. This first of the four novels is a relentless work. Peace's appetite for depicting cruelty, and Eddie's for walking almost blithely into it, seem limitless, but this is not without purpose. Nineteen Seventy-Four is a patent indictment of corruption and unrestrained exercise of power by a group of men who believe they are beyond any moral or legal restriction.
This is the North. We do what we want.

Screams one of Eddie's most vicious assailants. This is the mantra of the men who form the tangled web of crime that Eddie uncovers. But Peace's brief brutal sentences read not just as another noir entertainment, but as an equally loud scream to counter the unconscionable corruption that plagued the Yorkshire police throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Somehow it is possible to read this vicious record because of Peace's writing chops. His ability to sketch-in character with a few bold words:
Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldman, a face from before, a big man amongst big men, thick black hair plastered back to look like less, a pale face streaked beneath the lights with a thousand burst blood vessels, the purple footprints of tiny spiders running across his bleached white cheeks to the slopes of his drunken nose.
A paragraph that could have been painted by Lucien Freud. Same harsh lighting. Same demand for the ugly truth. We know what we are supposed to think of him.

His ability to jump into a scene with a bracing shock, like cold water.
'Brakes went. He goes straight into the back of the van, Bang!' Gilman smashed his fist into his open palm.

'Van was carrying windows wasn't it?' whispered New Face, sitting down next to Tom.

'Aye. I heard one of the panes severed his fucking head,' said Another New Face behind us.
This excerpt opens Chapter 4. This is not a writer who assumes his reader needs a lot of orienting.

Peace's eye for the right off-kilter detail of human behavior keeps things unsentimental and unpredictable. Take this sentence describing Eddie's father's wake.
I sat there in the middle of the crowded back groom, my tongue on the roof of my mouth, trying to move the stuck white bread, glad of something to clear out the taste of warm and salty ham, wishing for a whiskey and thinking of my father yet again; a man who'd signed the Pledge on his eighteenth birthday for no other reason than they asked.
Peace's voice renders the barbarism as almost a song.
Down the corridor, into records.

Yesterday's news.
Though the metal drawers, into the boxes.
A thousand Ruby Tuesdays.
I grabbed the reels, took a seat at a screen, and threaded through the microfilm.
July 1969.
I let the film fly by:
B Specials, Bernadette Devlin, Wallace Lawler, and In Place of Strife.
Wilson, Wilson, Wilson; like Ted had never been.
The Moon and Jack fucking Whitehead were everywhere.
Me in Brighton, two thousand light years from home.
I started to write.
His terse, tight poetry suggests David Peace is the heir-apparent to Dasheill Hammett. His ironic mixture of lyricism and violence evoke Bertolt Brecht. As inhumane as this story is, the writing is stunning and Nineteen Seventy-Four has made me an instant fan of David Peace. A brilliant recommendation from friend Sheila.


Sheila O'Malley said...

Oh, I'm so glad you clicked with it. It's really stunning, isn't it? The books read like a bat out of hell, and while the story itself is terrifying and engaging - it's the writing that makes these books something else altogether. I was blown away by them.

Ted said...

You've got me hooked.

Sheila O'Malley said...

He's such a showoff writer. It can be obnoxious - but never less than compelling. It is already an amazing body of work.