- An Interview with David Peace
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Born in Ossett, West Yorkshire, in 1967, the English novelist David Peace lives and writes in Tokyo. Peace first drew attention as the author of the Red Riding Quartet, a sequence of novels loosely based on the police investigation of Peter Sutcliffe, the serial rapist and murderer known as the Yorkshire Ripper. The quartet, which was published in Britain and the United States by the independent imprint Serpent's Tail, began with Nineteen Seventy Four (1999), continued with Nineteen Seventy Seven (2000) and Nineteen Eighty (2001), and came to its shocking and disillusioned conclusion with Nineteen Eighty Three (2002). As the titles suggest, each book is rooted in a particular year of a period that included industrial unrest throughout the United Kingdom, something tantamount to civil war in Northern Ireland, the looming threat of neo-fascist thuggery, a Scottish devolution campaign, punk rock, recession, the Falklands War, and the gradual emergence of New Right conservatism as a political way of life. The Yorkshire plotlines of each novel, which cross and recross throughout the series, are thus played out against a larger historical screen, where the local terrors of the Ripper murders join Peace's menacing critique of Thatcherite ideology, alive on the edges of Nineteen Seventy Four but roaring in full voice by Nineteen Eighty Three, which claims "there's no such thing as society" and unleashes xenophobic and misogynist violence in the name of British individualism.
The Red Riding Quartet earned Peace a position on the 2003 edition of Granta's infamous "Best of Young British Novelists" list. Though some critics are turned off by the bleakness of Peace's [End Page 547] fiction, the series was more often the subject of laudatory reviews that hailed its mixture of period detail and "Yorkshire noir" style. That Peace's style is easily parodied, like the noir of old, is evident in these sentences from Nineteen Seventy Seven: "Two of the police suddenly ran outside. The other two were looking at me. I had the bag in my hands." Yet despite the stock diction, Peace's prose is imbued with a Weltschmerz that is no mere put-on. Rarely sentimental, his novels ask how personal ethical rot legitimates wider social crimes. At the level of the sentence, this inquiry leads to a pattern of allusions and rhythmical associations between the individual and the social, the national and the international, as when a corrupt detective, one of three narrative voices in Nineteen Eighty Three, remembers the original sin of his career—a willfully botched investigation into the first of a series of child murders:
All across the UK, they're staring at the sun, waiting for the moon—
Ann Jones, Biafra, the Rivers of Blood,
Brian Jones, Free Wales, the Dock Strikes,
Marianne Faithfull and Harvey Smith,
But here's the news today, oh boy—
Memo from Maurice:
Jeanette Garland, 8, missing Castleford.
Extracts like these help to show how Peace does much more than give a Yorkshire update to the hard-boiled style. The implication of this paratactic and allusive catalogue, taking in everything from the Beatles to late imperial violence, is that the murder of Jeanette Garland is just the latest "news" in a litany of crimes committed, covered up, and enabled by hard men with secret agendas. In this way, Peace's prose is notable more for its terse and profane formalism than for its subordination to the dictates of the crime genre, as it eschews the institutional realism of the police procedural or the guilty pleasures of the killer thriller for what, in our interview, he reveals to be inventively programmatic formal choices. Though it never lacks narrative energy, a novel like Nineteen Eighty sometimes resembles verse more than prose narrative: "A cross to keep the fear away—/ A cross to keep the fear—/ A cross to keep—/ A cross to—/ A cross." These [End Page 548] are qualities that newspaper critics can't help but notice. Reviewing Nineteen Eighty Three for the Daily Telegraph, Simon Humphreys celebrates its "jump...