David Peace‘s Nineteen Seventy Four is both a typical and atypical serial killer drama. Typical in that it focuses on a overly creative killer who leaves behind a trail of the kind of imagery pop-pulp authors can not seem to write enough of these days; typical in that I could almost exactly envision the BBC series it would spawn (actually, as I’ll mention later, 1974 – along with the other books in the quartet – has already been made into a series which will be in theaters soon); and typical in its gritty toughness.
Yet it’s atypical in just how gritty and tough it gets. This book, filled with violent beatings and equally violent love, is one that gets your hands and mind dirty. It’s also atypical in its staccato voice, which makes the giant, convoluted web of conspiracy, corruption and madness a little side-of-the-head-whoppingly hard to follow.
There were definitely times where I had to re-read pages, lost in the pacing, the references to British pop culture of the seventies, and the slang. Not to mention a list of character names that confuse, not in a Dostoevskian way with their complexity, but in their commonality (Johns, Roberts, and Eddies abound).
The first part of a quartet (I have the other three coming in the mail), Peace’s heralded crime drama was inspired by the horrific crimes of Peter Sutcliffe, aka The Yorkshire Ripper, though the child killer here is only one part of a whole cast of genuinely horrible people that litter the city. Heroes are not to be found in this world, which makes this a recommendation with a particular admonishment: this novel is not for the faint-hearted and it is not for those that want to feel good.
The theatrical release of the adaptation (starring among others, Sean Bean) comes to IFC Feb 5 but the entire series is available on DVD for region 2 players.