The Red Riding Quadrilogy by David Peace


AKA The Red Riding Quadrilogy

It’s a long time since I wrote about books here and that’s because I’ve been a long time reading this remarkable bunch of books.

Collectively they amount to around 1,200 paperback pages and each of the four novels has an overlapping but always quite different pool of characters.

Over the piece there are probably in excess of 100 significant characters that one needs to come to terms with in following the plot.

It’s challenging.

Then there’s David Peace’s style.

These are crime novels and one would expect them to crack along at a pace and that the only really issue for the reader would be to unravel the clues and spot the killer.

Not here.

David Peace is one of Granta’s most highly regarded writers, regardless of genre, and that’s because he writes with style and elan.  Part of the pleasure of this massive book (Let’s call it one book for convenience sake)  is working his writing out.

Each book is individually structured.

Each structure is a clue in itself.

Each chapter in each book has a different (anti) hero.

And then there’s the subject.

The lighter side deals with the Yorkshire Ripper murders, the heavier with child murders.

The real issue though is the polis.

Jeez.

The British Police PR department presumably do not have any of these novels on their reading lists. Because the police come across as double crossing, conceited, evil scum.  And yet many of the main protagonosts are the polis.

That’s why his writing is nothing short of challenging.  Visceral, gut wrenching, brutal, shocking, calous, taboo-less.

Unputdownable.

There.  That’s seven uncompromising (that’s eight now. Ed) words to describe his way.

Sympathy is not a word that readily springs to mind in David Peace’s world.  Did you sympathise with Cloughie in his big seller, The Damned United?

No, this a world of damnation, wolfs, swans, angels, demons, rats, dragons…underground terror.

It’s a book about the underworld.  Full stop.

It’s a book of genius.

I can’t even confess to have fully got the plot (maybe I’ve actually lost it having invested six months of my reading life into Peace’s mind)  never mind the meaning but it has been a six month reading exercise that has enthralled, terrified and utterly engaged me from start to finish.

This book (in its totality) is an epic and quite remarkable literary achievement.

Few reading experiences have or will (since reading Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a 17 year old) affect me quite so powerfully.

Now for something lighter.

Phil Adams recommended the Death Machine to me.  I’m started on it.

Red Riding


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I love David Peace.

There.  I’ve said it.

He is, in my experience, the best writer in Britain, out of a very good lot.

I enjoyed 1974 to the point of gushingness.  And when Jeana said she wanted “A right good, proper crime book to read that wasn’t a load of old shite.” recently I recommended it.

She loved it – perhaps even more than I did.

And now it’s a Channel 4 TV movie.

Me?  I thought it was exceptional, although it strayed from the book’s plot quite considerably.  Most fundamentally in that it made Dunford’s character mainly sympathetic when, in the book, he’s just a twat.  It’s a classic example of a (near) brilliant adaptation of a brilliant book that falls short of the book but finds enough quality to make it brilliant nevertheless.

The acting, cinematography (let’s face it, it WAS a movie) and soundtrack (beautifully understated and not period at all) were all A list.  Some of it actually took your breath away.  It has BAFTA written all over it.  But, and it’s only a but, to us readers, it fell away really badly, plot-wise, compared to the book in the final act.  In fact, Jeana dismissed it, and I agree with her because it turned a grizzly, uncompromising book into a cop-out conclusion.  I was disappointed in that, but it wasn’t enough to spoil the overall effect.

By the bloody way, they were heavy bloody smokers in Yorkshire in the 70’s or what?  Fook me.  It made “the man who wasn’t there” look restrained.  In fact, I’m away to wash my clothes.

As an aside I do want to bring your attention to Peace’s masterpiece, if I haven’t already.  The Damned Utd starring Martin Sheen is soon to hit our screens.

In my opinion it’s likely to be a classic example of a movie that won’t be as good as the book because it can’t be.

We’ll see though.

Fook me though.  I hope I’m wrong likers.

Engleby by Sebastian faulks


I can’t review this book without *SPOILERS* so if you don’t want to know too much about it look away now.

I think he might be a) dodgy or b) misunderstood.

I think he might be a) dodgy or b) misunderstood.

So, oh you’re still with me? Good.

I just finished this intriguing book. And quite a few people I know have read it before me so I’ve been able to gauge reaction. It is a classic game of two halves. The first half is a slightly surreal coming of age story building up the detailed circumstances that explain the second half. It’s hilarious in parts, light, page turning and quite frothy. The prevailing mood is sarcastic and details how Michael Engleby (or is it Mike, or Mike(!) or Michelle or Michael Watson or Toilet?) struggles through childhood, a crummy public school and Cambridge (for some reason unnamed until the end). Clearly he is a social misfit. Hardly surprising given the rough treatment he received from his tough dad and his uber cruel schoolmates.

At Cambridge he adopts the role of a loner, petty thief, alcoholic and junkie, quietly stalking the most popular girl in the college, Jennifer Arkland.

The book dramatically turns soon after Jennifer suddenly disappears. It doesn’t take a psychic to predict that Engleby has killed her. And, indeed, the remainder of the book gradually unravels the truth behind the events leading up to her inevitable death, the very drawn out police hunt and Engleby’s final arrest and subsequent 17 year term in a mental hospital overlooking his old school.

What makes this book so intriguing is the way that Faulks uses it as an exercise in deconstruction. This makes it quite an extreme writerly experience.

Ostensibly, Faulks tears the first half of the book apart, paragraph by paragraph to reveal what it was that turned Engleby into, as it turns out, a serial killer.

But it’s cleverer than that. He uses the deconstruction technique not only as a key plot device but also as a way to play with the notion of time, memory and, dare I say it, existentialism.

Latterly the book is no page-turner, but I found it incredibly clever. It’s open to criticism as a piece of cod philosophy and self-indulgence of course. But I’m not a philosopher so I don’t know how grown up his observations are.

At times I was inclined to think he was showing off a bit (as some say Ian McEwan did in ‘On Chesil Beach‘) but I’m not so sure.

The final page is a brilliant twist. Or is it? Nah, it isn’t. It’s just another wee bit of writerly trickery and closed the book with a resounding smirk.

Good stuff Seb.

1974 by David Peace


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The talent of David Peace is pretty well documented, but not in the mainstream. Which is a shame because in some ways he is a mainstream writer. Well, he writes crime novels and has written one about football. (Incidentally, the best sports book I have ever read as I documented here.)

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This is firmly in the crime camp. But it’s not Rebus.

David Peace is a unique writer. His style is more aggressive than Mike Tyson on the downturn.

Short.

Sharp.

One sentence para’s.

And grizzly, basic, twisted, evil, some might say sick, uncompromising but utteerly compelling situations.

A plot more convoluted than the current US Democratic Primaries.

1974 is the first in a quartet of books, now known as the Yorkshire series. It’s set in Leeds, Wakefield, Huddersfield and other cities in the grim north. It is not inconsistent with the grim north America of Silence of The Lambs.

Centring around the story of rookie crime reporter Edward Dunford and the murder of a child (part of a serial killer series we are led to believe) it soon escalates into a full-blown corruption case.

Dunford, the masogynistic beer, whisky fag and sex overindulger soon finds himself way out of his depth in a world of property developers, rugby league stars, mediums and worst of all bent cops.

Rather than painting Dunford as the hero Peace makes him a hateful scumbag, and yet still maintains his heroic stance throughout the book.

I cannot think of a central character, of late, that so deflects your sympathy, and yet in at least small amounts, garners it. I can think of few writers that are so visceral and don’t, frankly, give a fuck.

This is a great book. But if you are in any way sensitive…avoid.

But for me, the best thing is I still have three books to read in the quartet , and this is apparently the safe one.

It’s a thrilling prospect.