This is our truth, tell us yours
For the last of my seven books in eight days I’m going to cheat. Four books, not one, make up the Red Riding Quartet by David Peace, and are the archetype I would want to pursue if I were to write a crime novel.
For those who don’t know them, Peace’s novels are a huge sweep of crimewriting set in the chronological scale of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. In their obsessive nature, their structural complexity and their refusal to conform to the narrative norms ofBritish writing they strongly resemble James Elroy’s best work. They refute, in brilliant and terrifying style, the idea that there is something so different about the USA that means Elroy’s style and compulsive manner could only flourish there.
Peace himself has summed up the challenge for high concept crime writers; to write about crime as if they are inspired by Dante and Orwell. Like Peace I want to read ‘fictions torn from facts that use those fictions to illuminate the truth’. Like Peace I believe ‘crime fiction has both the opportunity and the obligation to be the most political of any writing or any media, crime itself being the most manifest example of the politics of the time. We are defined and damned by the crimes of the times that we live in’. And like Peace I believe crime fiction is specific to time and place; what makes Midsomer Murders so risible on TV, and George Gently so powerful, is the sense of time and place so apparent in Gently’s North East,and so absent in Midsomer, the land that time and geography forgot.
WillI become the writer I could wish to be? I don’t know. There is something about the childhod of an Elroy or a Peace that I do not recognise in myself, but whenever I try to write, I feel a duty to try to emulate their passion, their commitment and their accuracy. And that is why the Red Riding Quartet is part of the books I wish I had written.