Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book #27

David Peace's seminal Red Riding Quartet is one of the most incredible examples of the potential for noir. His books are historical, crime ridden, corruption dense, conspiracy laden, thematic and contain enough literary juice to satisfy the bravest of Jane Austen scholars. The novels - Nineteen Seventy-Four, Nineteen Seventy-Seven, Nineteen Eighty, Nineteen Eighty-Three- are compellingly dark, gritty and ultimately perfect. However, you cannot read one of the novels but rather must make your tangled way through each book before they can be viewed as one complete masterpiece. I thought about reviewing them separately but wanted to see how well it hangs together. The short answer: unbelievably well.
The series starts off with something amiss in Yorkshire in 1974, a little girl named Clare Kempley has gone missing. One crusading journalist discovers the disappearence may tie to many more. In 1977 two characters, one a decorated police officer and the other a drunk journalist investigate the gruesome Yorkshire Ripper killings. The murderer has a particular hate on for street workers and brutally mutilates his victims. In 1980 an IA officer named Peter Hunter tangles with the Ripper and the deepening murk surrounding Yorkshire. The brilliant 1983 ties the entire series together in an unexpected but beautiful way.
A warning - this is not bedtime reading, it is dark material and often disturbing. However, it is worthwhile to get through. Also, at times the book itself does not tie up all the loose ends but there is a payoff at the end so make sure to read them all!
Take my favourite moment from the entire series, (SPOILER ALERT) in 1980 (as in real life which Peace takes as his grounding) the Yorkshire Ripper is caught and confesses to thirteen murders. The one problem - several "ripper" killings remain unaccounted for. The police ask him if he did it, his response is so utterly perfect and chilling that it has become one of my all-time book moments:
"Claire Strachen?"
Yorkshire Ripper:"No."
Yorkshire Ripper: "It was him."
Yorkshire Ripper: "Other guy".
With that line, Peace transcends the genre and comes as close to Ellroy (while maintaining a distinct style) as anyone yet.
Highly recommended but make sure to keep your night light handy.

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