Hello sweeties! This review has been sitting on my wordpress dashboard for over 18 months. I am planning on returning to the big bad world of book blogging in 2013, thought I’d get this out of the way before the new year so I can start with a clean slate. See you in the new year!
Nineteen Seventy-Seven, the second novel in David Peace’s Red Riding quartet, is crime fiction without good guys. Crime fiction with resolution. Crime fiction that depicts not only criminal behaviour as relentlessly bloody and horrific, but raises the question of whether there is something inherent in human nature that is similarly corrupted. Nineteen Seventy-Seven is bleak, despairing and an assault on all fronts.
I really loved the first book in the series, Nineteen Seventy-Four, and when beginning Nineteen Seventy-Seven I found the narrative voices were very similar to that of Eddie Dunford in the first book. That narrative voice – abrupt, short, stream of consciousness pace, is similar to the one used in Seventy-Four, and other than content it is near impossible to distinguish who is narrating. What was a compelling narrative voice in Nineteen Seventy-Four now seemed to be Peace’s default writing style, not as intrinsically linked to character as it originally appeared. Nonetheless, it is a suitably hypnotic and alluring style, a sort of gruesomely poetic vision of paranoia and fear. In Nineteen Seventy-Four, as a quick recap, Dunford was a man in way over his head, a somewhat clueless crime journalist investigating and becoming entangled with gruesome crimes and institutional corruption. Nineteen Seventy-Seven focuses on a different series of crimes, this time the mutilation and murder of prostitutes on the streets of Yorkshire, the work of the Yorkshire Ripper.
Yesterday’s news, tomorrow’s headline:
The Yorkshire Ripper.
The two main characters of Nineteen Seventy-Seven are two men that appeared in the first book, and at first it is difficult to reconcile how they were in Seventy-Four with how they appear here. Jack Whitehead, star crime reporter, was Dunford’s friendly rival, while Bob Fraser, an unusually helpful police officer, was one of Dunford’s key sources. Here, their roles and the sympathy afforded to them are reversed. Bob Fraser, though somewhat decent in Seventy-Four, here is complicit in his acceptance of the brutal tactics of the police force and sadly, desperately, in love with a prostitute while his wife cares for her ailing father. Jack Whitehead is no longer the star journalist puffed up on his superior attitude, but a broken man deeply traumatized by events in the years between.
The footnotes and the margins, the tangents and the detours, the dirty tabula, the broken record.
Jack Whitehead, Yorkshire, 1977.
The bodies and the corpses, the alleys and the wasteland, the dirty men, the broken women.
Jack the Ripper, Yorkshire, 1977.
The lies and the half-truths, the truths and the half-lies, the dirty hands, the broken backs.
Two Jacks, one Yorkshire, 1977.
These two key characters are involved in the official and media investigation into the spate of violent crimes frightening the city, but are also personally involved with prostitutes who they fear will be the next victim. One major qualm I have with this series so far is the lack of female characters who are not victims of violence or prostitutes. With the investigations invading their professional and personal lives, Fraser and Whitehead are unable to escape from the atmosphere of dread and of fear. It’s a mood that envelopes the entire narrative for the reader as well, claustrophobic bleakness, with no evidence of light at all. Mainly due to the similar style and a lack of momentum in the investigations, it wasn’t until the crimes began to slowly be linked to those in Nineteen Seventy-Four that I really became engaged. Engaged being much too light a word for how I feel about these books, it sinks its hooks in and refuses to let go. Especially when the slightest connections are being made, when the characters are on the brink of, yes madness, but also uncovering essential details that reveal more than they could ever possibly want to comprehend.
The ending of Nineteen Seventy-Seven is one of the most disturbing, disheartening and oppressive that I have read in a long time. There is no redemption. There is no resolution. There are no heroes. Paranoia and failure are rife, corruption nearly impossible to overcome. Powerfully grim and genuinely frightening, and not just due to the visceral descriptions of murder, but the horrors possible of human nature.
(This post was a draft that I had saved on my wordpress dashboard since August 2011 and I have since read the final two books in the series, and found them equally as stylistically gripping, inventive and unrelentingly bleak. Brilliant, harrowing stuff.)