Friday, February 1, 2013

David Peace and Red Riding - Murder By The Throat

Red Riding, David Peace

An interesting article in a British broadsheet newspaper recently seemed to genuinely break cover within the mainstream media on the scale of demographic changes in Greater London - and their radical and irreversible social repercussions. The origins and nature of such historic population redistribution being suggestive of a fundamental breach of the very social contract between citizen and nation-state upon which we are lead to believe Western social democracies used to function in the good old days.

In another context of changing times - and our faltering sense of place - this week has seen the death of Malcolm Brodie who was Northern Ireland's main football journalist during the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. Brodie, who was born in Scotland and arrived in Ulster as a child evacuee, covered 14 World Cup finals in his career - these including three with Northern Ireland teams in Sweden, Spain and Mexico. Brodie was sports editor of the Belfast Telegraph - the sister Ireland's Saturday Night evening sports newspaper ceased publication in 2008 due to dropping circulation figures because of the digital revolution. It had been first published in 1894 while in 1896 two versions were introduced - one for the North and one for the South of Ireland. It was known as "The Pink" up to 1917 because of the paper colour and generally throughout Northern Ireland thereafter as "The Ulster".

Also with regard to football, and in light of an earlier post about Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, the British author David Peace's next book will consider the legendary Scot's professional career at Huddersfield and on the Mersey. Talking of Red Or Dead Peace has noted: "I have written about corruption, I've written about crime, I've written about bad men and I've written about the demons. But now I've had enough of the bad men and the demons. Now I want to write about a good man and a saint - a Red Saint".

Yorkshire-born Peace's previous two books were crime stories set in post-war Japan while earlier works included his GB84 portrait of the bitter and devastating miners' strike and The Damned United about Brian Clough's brief 44-day residency at Elland Road in charge of Super Leeds.

Prior to all these was David Peace's extraordinary and utterly unique Red Riding quartet - set between 1974 and 1983 - which was subsquently made into three television crime dramas starring Sean Bean, David Morrissey and Andrew Garfield. The narrative thread of the second and fourth volumes interweaves between several individual perspectives to hypnotic effect and the plotline overlaps throughout with regard to the Yorkshire Ripper and other northern nightmares.

Only a writer like Peace with such incredulous capacity for timing and tone could emplace a scene as hilarious as the corpulent solicitor John Piggott's pissed tour around the pubs of Leeds with his mates in a landscape of random violence, unspeakable perversion, urban decay, rank racism, loveless sex, functioning alcoholism, institutional corruption and a darkness bordering on the occult.

Red Riding was truly a stunning look at a vanished Britain then splintering upon the Class War and industrial decline yet a country still fully wedded to its unique culture, worth and history. Peace thus laid down a burning marker for British fiction with these works that has been seldom surpassed in its unfettered brutality, retrospective style and unrelenting pace.

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