Red Riding: 1974 Review

I don’t usually do book reviews. Not because I don’t love books, but because I’m an awfully slow reader, I don’t always absorb everything, and I tend to get distracted all too easily, even by other books. In fact, I was still in the middle of a couple of others when I decided to make a start on “Nineteen Seventy-four” by David Peace.

I had picked it up at BMV, a very cheap bookstore here in Toronto. I had been looking for something closer to horror to read, but the book somehow caught my eye. I had heard of The Red Riding Quartet, and I had been curious to read the series after Channel 4 made an adaptation of 3 of the books several years ago. I didn’t watch it, but I heard many great things. I’m not a big follower of crime fiction, but everything I had heard about the story implied that these books were more than just “whodunnit” mysteries.

So, after finishing the book earlier today, what did I think of it, overall?

Oh.

My.

God.

Like I said, I had expected something more than just your basic mystery. What I didn’t expect was how much I would get completely sucked into it. This book is nothing short of pure, hardcore noir. It portrays a relentlessly grim and vicious world, reeking of paranoia and corruption. It’s a world ruled by villains, without hope and without mercy. This is the world of Yorkshire, 1974.

Any story that begins with the gruesome murder of a child pretty much lets you know from the start that this is far from a happy tale. The protagonist, crime reporter Eddie Dunford, is initially looking for a good story. He thinks he’s found one when he discovers a possible link between the murder and the disappearances of other children.

However, as he digs deeper, he soon learns that there’s far more depth to the horror than he initially realized, and that there are many dangerous people out there who’d want the secrets he uncovers to remain buried. Especially the police…

From the very beginning, it became clear that Eddie Dunford is far from a likeable protagonist. He’s very self-centred, wanting to get a good story even when he has other important things to focus on, like his father’s funeral. He has a girlfriend that he doesn’t really care about, and the idea of a child murder to report is something that he’s actually hoping for, at least when the novel begins.

As the story goes on, however, he finds himself going on a journey. This isn’t the kind of spiritual journey that improves him, however. Instead, he finds himself heading deeper and deeper into his own personal hell. And the reader is dragged along with him. The fact that the narration is done in first-person means that we’re always inside his head, we always know what he’s thinking, even when he’s thinking or doing terrible things himself, and as he pisses off the wrong kind of people, we share his torment with him. Seriously, it’s shocking how much suffering this guy goes through.

And that’s a thing that stands out about the novel: its aim to really, really shock and repulse the reader. Whether it’s brutal torture that go beyond physical and into deeply psychological; shockingly graphic and violent murder, or even just seriously detailed sex scenes, reading the novel genuinely feels like a tough experience to go through. I mean this in the best way possible. You’ll be shocked, disturbed and deeply appalled by everything Eddie goes through – or even just by the actions he makes – but you won’t want to stop reading.

And that’s the sign of a remarkably strong writer. Anyone can write something that’s aimed to repulse, if they really put their mind to it. Anyone can shock. Anyone can use the word “cunt” in a sentence. (See? But seriously, he uses this word a lot in the novel.) But it takes a truly gifted writer like David Peace to take you by the hand and pull you deeper and deeper into this world of darkness and horror. Especially when it’s a world that’s feels just beneath the surface of your own.

“Nineteen Seventy-four” has been like nothing else I’ve read. It’s noir fiction of the blackest and best kind. Perhaps due to my limited experience of this genre of fiction, the only thing I can compare it to is season 1 of True Detective. Finishing it left me emotionally drained while leaving a dark mark on my soul, and yet I’m incredibly eager to read the next volume, “Nineteen Seventy-seven”.

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