Adrian McKinty on the genius of David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet
Throughout his remarkable Red Riding Quartet, David Peace isn’t just spinning us yarns; he’s also teaching us a new way of telling stories
When I first encountered 1974, the opening novel in David Peace’s
Red Riding quartet, I was in a bad place. My father had just died and I’d been so broke that for his funeral I’d bought a suit from the Belfast Marks and Spencer, wore it during the burial in an apocalyptic downpour, and spent the night aerating it with a hairdryer so that I could return it the next day.
I was living in New York at the time, working as a barman in the Bronx and as a shop assistant at the big 82nd and Broadway Barnes and Noble bookstore. The novel came in as an intriguing galley in the British edition published by Serpent’s Tail. I was an obsessive reader of books and comic books, but I had decided a couple of years earlier that British contemporary fiction was not for me. The novels that were winning the Booker prizes and featured on Radio 4 and in the Sunday newspapers were all seemingly written by privately educated, very posh, very nice people who lived in leafy north London. These books about wealthy toffs and their bloody problems said (to quote Morrissey) “nothing to me about my life”.
But 1974 was different, I decided, as I sat there reading it in the toilet at my dad’s wake. It is the story of Eddie Dunford, a young, working-class journalist for the Yorkshire Post who stumbles his way into a sordid conspiracy while reporting on the case of a missing girl who subsequently turns up dead with wings sewn into her back. The tale is a grim one but what exhilarated me about it was the greasy, sweaty, smoky, claustrophobic feel of 1970s Britain and the urgency of the prose: “Back at the house, first things first: Phone the office. Nothing. No news being bad news for the Kemplyas and Clare, good news for me. Twenty-four hours coming up, tick tock Twenty-four hours meaning Clare dead.” This was Peace’s first novel but right out of the gate his style was confident, idiosyncratic and coherent. Peace had something to say and that something was the bad news that we ordinary blokes down the pub or the bookies or the dole office are doomed because our lives are governed by a cabal of the wealthy, the wicked and the powerful.
David Peace was born in Yorkshire in 1967 and grew up in the mining and textile town of Ossett in the West Riding. He was educated at Batley Grammar School, Wakefield College and Manchester Polytechnic. In 1991, he went to Turkey to teach English as a foreign language and in 1994 he relocated to Tokyo where he’s
Andrew Garfield as crime reporter Eddie Dunford in the TV adaptation of David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet.