Title: Nineteen Seventy Four
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Paperback: 295 pages
Publication Date: 04/09/2008
My first experience of David Peace’s work was the 2009 television mini-series based on his Red Riding Quartet. Its brutal, gritty depiction of police and institutional corruption in 1970s and 1980s Yorkshire [against a predominantly leaden-skied backdrop – some things never change!] was spell-bindingly brilliant. I immediately rushed out to buy the first book in the quartet, Nineteen Seventy Four, but then, as is too often the case with me, made the mistake of placing it on the dreaded ‘must-read’ shelf. Since then it has sat, waiting to be read, whilst I have found myself hampered by the scourge of modern life – lack of time.
So now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading the novel I’m left cursing myself for having let so much time elapse – for Nineteen Seventy Four is even more compelling than the television adaptation [and that’s saying something].
Young Yorkshire Post crime journalist Edward “Eddie” Dunford is assigned the task of reporting on the police’s search for a missing local girl. But when the girl’s corpse is discovered, brutalised and with swan wings sown onto her back, Eddie realises that there may be a connection to two other young girls’ disappearances. Eddie, who starts the novel as a selfish, arrogant and thoroughly unsympathetic character, begins to redeem himself through his dogged refusal to stop investigating a case that is part of part of a swirling milieu of multi-layered corruption, police brutality and torture, forced confessions, racism, murder and greed.
It must be said that Nineteen Seventy Four is definitely not for the faint-of-heart. Overflowing with expletives, racist slurs, misogyny, homophobia and sadistic, unrelenting violence, it’s certainly a lot to take in and paints a particularly bleak vision of Yorkshire [especially for me – I was an undergraduate at Leeds University, although, admittedly, three decades later!]. The prose, in keeping with the book’s themes, is composed of viciously contracted sentences – often jarringly so. Sentences that grow shorter as the novel progresses. More vicious. Faster. The pace – already supercharged – grows nigh on unbearable. My mind was almost hyperventilating as I read. And still Peace continues to pile on yet more intrigue, right up until the book’s savage denouement.
Nineteen Seventy Four is a book that refuses to pull its punches, and will keep you mesmerised throughout. A superbly coruscating read, David Peace has done for 1970s/80s Yorkshire what James Ellroy did for 1940s/50s LA. However, it is important to remember that this is a work of fiction, and that Peace has taken specific elements [almost all negative] of 1970s Yorkshire and amplified them for the sake of the story. You’d imagine that the Yorkshire Tourism Board aren’t fans of Peace’s novels, but I certainly am.