{short description of image}


David Peace

Serpent's Tail £12.00

Reviewed by Bob Cartwright

Opportunity for some big-time name dropping. David Peace came recommended to me by no less than Ian Rankin, and he was spot on. However, yours truly remains somewhat ashamed for not coming across this particular author previously. Maybe, the publisher has to take some of the blame for that. Could it be that Serpent’s Tail have missed a major marketing opportunity with David Peace? I hope not.

1983 is the concluding volume of the Red Riding Quartet which commenced in 1999 with 1974, and then took us to 1977 and 1980. And the only problem with 1983 is that, for full benefit, you really do have to go back to the preceding volumes. Having done so, the full benefit is a rich one, because the quartet is simply one of the best and most sustained pieces of British crime fiction writing. Don’t just be arrested by the promise of the unique style which veers alarmingly from Ellroy staccato soundbites to poetic primal screams. But do be arrested by the accomplished factional portrayal of Leeds and the North, as it adjusts uneasily to the disappearance of young girls, in what could be a continuation of the Moors Murders, and then faces fearfully the serial murders of the Yorkshire Ripper. And what were the police doing when all this was frightening the good folk of Yorkshire off the streets at night? According to Peace they were having a ripe old time setting up robberies, running the prostitutes the Ripper was carving up, developing a North of England pornography ring, murdering anyone who happened to get in their way, and torturing confessions out of any misfortunate souls they could pull in and fit up.

It would be very easy in a portrayal of such times and events to go all the way with the latterday Ellroy and adopt a relativistic stance which sees all in varying degrees of noir, forgetting that in the earlier Los Angeles texts there was a high degree of compassion, and an occasional figure, however flawed, who attempted to rise above the mire. Thankfully, Peace does not do that, instead offering a range of characters, two journalists, a couple of coppers, and a lawyer who from 1977 onwards attempt to find out just what is going down in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and even across the Penines, in Manchester, Rochdale and Preston. Any victory won against these enormous odds, is won at high costs which makes the temptation not to run against the tide of corruption all the easier.

But when the reality of the times was so remarkable, Peace’s ultimate skill lies in weaving a fictional framework which can embellish the known facts and at the same time provide a credible explanation for much of what happened. The Quartet is by no means an easy read, but it is certainly only a little short of a masterpiece. Don’t be put off by the inability to stroll into the major bookselling chains and find these four volumes on the shelves, they are all readily available from the Serpent’s Tail website. It will be interesting to see how David Peace follows up the quartet. I will be waiting impatiently to find out the answer.