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Quais du polar #5: Nineteen Seventy-Four by David Peace – 1974 shades of Noir.

March 28, 2016 26 comments

1974 by David Peace (1999) Translated by Daniel Lemoine.

Quais_polar_logoNineteen Seventy-Four is the first novel of the Red Riding Quartet by David Peace. The four books are set in Yorkshire between 1974 and 1983.

Edward Dunford is a rookie journalist, just hired as North of England Crime Correspondent at the Yorkshire Evening Post. The book starts on Friday 13 December 1974. Eddie’s father has just died and he’s attending a press conference at the Millgarth Police Station, Leeds. Little Clare Kemplay has been missing since the day before on her way back from school. Soon, her body is found in a nearby alley. Edward makes a connection between this murder and the murders of two other little girls. Jeanette Garland missing since 1969 in Castleford. Susan Ridyard missing since 1972 in Rochdale, in 1972.

Peace_1974Eddie starts digging. His colleague Barry Gannon is on a big case that he calls the Dawsongate. He’s investigating shady transactions in the construction business owned by John Dawson. He’s on the verge of getting the evidence he needs. He gets murdered on December 16th. Eddie inherits of his material.

Who is the link between the three murdered little girls? What was Barry about to reveal?

Ambitious Eddie will follow leads and from informative phone calls, to strange visits and police tips, he will start his journey to hell. Corruption is wherever you look. Among the police. Among the press. Among the powerful men of the territory. Eddie will be in the cross-fire between the three, trying to save his career and his life while attempting to discover the truth about these horrible acts.

Everything happens between December 13 and Christmas Eve. David Peace installs the nervous pace of his literary style from the first paragraphs:

‘All we ever get is Lord fucking Lucan and wingless bloody crows,’ smiled Gilman, like this was the best day of our lives:

Friday 13 December 1974.

Waiting for my fist Front Page, the Byline Boy at last: Edward Dunford, North of England Crime Correspondent; two days too fucking late.

I looked at my father’s watch.

9 a.m0 and no bugger had been to bed; straight from the Press Club, still stinking of ale, into this hell:

The Conference Room, Millgarth Police Station, Leeds.

The whole bloody pack sat waiting for the main attraction, pens poised and tapes paused; ht TV lights and cigarette smoke lighting up the windowless room like a Town Hall boxing ring on a Late Night Fight Night; the paper boys taking it out on the TV set, the radios static and playing it deaf:

‘They got sweet FA’

‘A quid says she’s dead if they got George on it.’

Khalil Aziz at the back, no sign of Jack.

I felt a nudge. It was Gilman again, Gilman from the Manchester Evening News and before.

‘Sorry to hear about your old man, Eddie’

‘Yeah, thanks,’ I said, thinking news really did travel fucking fast.

‘When’s the funeral?’

I looked at my father’s watch again. ‘In about two hours.’

‘Jesus. Hadden still taking his pound of bloody flesh, then.’

‘Yeah,’ I said, knowing, funeral or no funeral, no way I’m letting Jack fucking Whitehead back on this one.

‘I’m sorry, like’

‘Yeah,’ I said.

It’s a long quote but it gives the atmosphere of the novel in a nutshell. The ingredients are there. Eddie mourning his father but in competition with the star journalist Jack Whitehead. The fake camaraderie between the journalists. The show delivered by the police. The interdependence between the police and the press. The demands of Hadden, Eddie’s boss.

The loose use of punctuation gives a staccato rhythm to the book and it will follow us for the whole ride. I have to admit: Thank God I had this one in translation. I was already fairly lost in French, I can’t even imagine what it would have been in English. It’s a first person narrative, so we’re with Eddie the whole time. It’s violent because the methods of the police are made of beating and torture. There’s an urgency to the story that keeps you breathless. We’re walking in the dark with Eddie, trying to weave the threads of information together to create the tapestry of events. Not easy before computer and cell phones times.

I know that Nineteen Seventy-Four is loosely based upon the real case of the Yorkshire Ripper. I’m French and was still in diapers in 1974. I know nothing about this case. Just like I knew nothing about the Lucan case when I read Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark. I did a bit of reading on Wikipedia. This serial killer murdered prostitutes, not little girls. Fiction is mixed with facts. Edward Dunford is from Osset, like David Peace. The investigation on the Yorkshire Ripper was done by Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield who was highly criticized for his handling of the case. Here, George Oldfield is the name of the Chief Superintendent in charge of the investigation. I’m sure there are other parts of the novel that borrow to the real case. Does that bother me? Not really because it is not a novel about this case. It’s a novel about a similar serial killer and Peace probably used the information about the Yorkshire Ripper to give back the atmosphere of the time, the way the police worked and how the whole intelligentsia of West Yorkshire holds themselves together through shared secrets.

Nobody had interest in shaking the whole system and Eddie is a willing pawn. He’s not a likeable character either. Women are means for sex, however damaged they might be, he’s in this mainly for his own advancement and his competition with Jack Whitehead for the title of best crime journalist. He’s not a noble character fighting to right wrongs in a corrupt world. And yet he continues.

This is Noir, very very Noir fiction and Peace’s style makes it worth your time. Granted it’s not an asset for the Department of Tourism of West Yorskshire, even if it is set 40 years ago.

For another review, have a look at Max’s excellent post here.

 

Preparing for Quais du Polar 2016

February 20, 2016 32 comments

Quais_polar_logoThe festival Quais du polar will be from 1st to 3rd of April in Lyon, France. In French, polar is a generic and affectionate term to call crime fiction. Quais is probably a reference to 36 Quai des Orfèvres where the Parisian police have their headquarters and to Interpol’s headquarters located 200, Quai Charles de Gaulle in Lyon. L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Police is also in Lyon. It’s the school where police officers and commissaires are trained. So the city that hosts Quais du polar is also the headquarters of famous police institutions. But Quais also means river banks and the other reason why Quais is included in the name of the festival comes from the geography of Lyon. Indeed, the river Rhône and the river Saône run through Lyon and the city centre is called the Presqu’île (peninsula) as it is between the two rivers. The city is really shaped by its two rivers. So, Quais du polar is an apt name for a festival that celebrates crime fiction in Lyon.

2016 is the 12th season of the festival and I hope the series Quais du Polar will have many seasons. Last year, it attracted 70 000 visitors and, from what I’ve seen, writers were enchanted. My post about the 2014 and 2015 editions are here and here. Quais du polar is a mixed festival: there’s a huge bookstore in the magnificent building of the Chamber of Commerce, where writers come and sign their books, conferences, a whodunit promenade throughout the city and other activities.This year, the festival will show off Francophone crime fiction with writers from France, Québec, Switzerland, Gabon and Togo.

Quais_polarAs last year, I bought a subscription to the festival. It’s not mandatory but it helps accessing to the conférences; it costs 30€ and comes with a free book. The access to everything is free, the festival relies on volunteers. Paying a subscription is also a way to help them. The free book is Tout le monde te haïra by Alexis Aubenque. To be honest, it’s not a book I would have picked myself as it is a thriller and it is set in Alaska. I’m a bit wary of writers who write crime fiction set in another country as theirs. But I’ll give it a try.

The web site has not been updated yet with the detailed program of the festival but the guest writers are already listed. You can have a look here: Invités Quais du Polar. If you do have a look, please let me know who you’d like to meet if you were attending. It’s always nice to have pointers.

Johnson_camp_mortsPeace_1974Meanwhile, I will be reading some writers who will be participating to Quais du Polar. I’m delighted to see that Craig Johnson will be there. He was already present in 2014 but now I’ve started his Longmire series and I hope I’ll be able to talk to him. My billet about the first volume of the series, Little Bird, is here and I will write soon about the second opus, Death Without Company. I’m happy to report that I found it as good as the first one. I love the atmosphere of Durant, Wyoming and Longmire’s personality, colleagues and friends. I will also read 1974 by David Peace, a book that has been on my shelf for a while. #TBR20 is still on and it will make up for the three books I bought for the occasion.

Ferey_ZuluI decided to read Zulu by Caryl Férey. He’s a French writer and the book is set in Cape Town, South Africa. I know, my buying this not exactly consistent with my previous my comment on Alexis Aubenque. I can’t explain why I have a better feeling about Zulu. Or perhaps I’m not so thrilled to read a book set in Alaska because the place reminds me of Sarah Palin, the dreadful Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, horrifying working conditions on fishing boats described by Iain Levison and oil spills.  Zulu got multiple prizes, so I’m curious. It sounds like a compelling story with incursions into local politics and sociology. Crime fiction is a great medium for that. It is available in English, if anyone’s interested.

Levison_toutI also purchased Ils savent tout de vous by Iain Levison. I’ve already read his Working Stiff’s Manifesto. I’ve heard his interview on France Inter and his last book sounded interesting. Wanna know the funny thing about it? It’s been written in English but you can only find it in French because it’s only been published in France. The guy’s publisher is French and Levison refuses to publish his book in the US. So, here I am, perfectly able to read the original but forced to read it in translation. I wish it were published in parallel texts or one after the other in an omnibus edition.

Niel_hamacsThe last one is Les Hamacs de carton by French author Colin Niel. He’s an engineer specialized in environmental issues and he has lived several years in French Guiana. He created a series set in this overseas department with a main character named Capitaine Anato. Les Hamacs de carton is the first volume of the series. *sheepish* French Guiana only means three things to me: Amazonia, Christiane Taubira and the penal colony where Dreyfus and Henri Charrière (Papillon) were sent. I’m curious to learn more about the place.

I hope I’ll have time to read these books before the festival. If you’re interested in Quais du Polar, you can come to Lyon for the weekend. The city is beautiful and the atmosphere during the festival is special. If you’d like to come but can’t, you can follow Quais du polar on Twitter : @QuaisPolar or on Facebook.

Lyon

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