Fourth and last in this British author’s experimental Red Riding Quartet crime epic: a raw and furious wade through the Valley of Death that understates its big sweet hell of pages chock-a-block with violated corpses and red rain running with blood.
Peace’s Boschian landscape of West Yorkshire’s all-out dystopia began with Nineteen Seventy Four (2000) and a young girl’s murdered body, found in a ditch with swan’s wings sewn to its shoulder blades. While atmospheric with ’70s music and ads, that first installment set the quartet’s bleak Orwellian tone, though with echoes of the complex modes of Dos Passos’s U.S.A. and the demonic grimness, violence, corruption and conspiracies of James Ellroy. But as Nineteen Seventy Seven (2001) shows, Peace’s obscene vision of cut-up bodies, castration, girls scalped and strangled, is all his own, with memorial images of swan’s wings floating through all four novels. Peace’s Yorkshire Ripper, who disembodies prostitutes with a screwdriver, is taken from real life (as in Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia and as with nearly all of Peace’s crimes), and family members of the dead have to live with Peace’s fear-reminding, gore-riddled pages. Nineteen Eighty (2001) finds the Ripper still abroad but with Yorkshire undergoing vast social change and the police corruption and true-fact crimes adding unusual depth to the series’ black nightmare. Now, Peace brings back a handful of earlier characters to help work up the reader’s revulsion and nausea. Corrupt Detective Chief Superintendent Maurice Jobson, owl-like with thick lenses in black frames, is tracking the kidnapping and probable murder of ten-year-old Hazel Atkins, but his mind still swims with memories of Clare Kemplay, she with the swan’s wings, now murdered a decade ago. Also on hand is lawyer Big John Piggott, who no longer believes that retarded Michael Myshkin, whose forced confession has him serving time for Clare’s murder, actually did it. And on the run is thief and sexual rent boy BJ.
Total eclipse of the heart.