Nineteen Seventy Four

by David Peace

Peace, D. (1999). Nineteen seventy four. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Yorkshire is in northern England and includes the counties of South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, and the East Riding of Yorkshire. West Yorkshire is sometimes referred to as the West Riding. Leeds, Bradford, and Sheffield are some of the cities and towns and Bingley, Keighley, Castleford and Wakefield are smaller areas in West Yorkshire. The landscape is one of moors and hills that end in coastal cliffs.

This is the area that was home to the Yorkshire Ripper in the 1970s. Like Jack the Ripper, the Yorkshire Ripper (later identified as Peter Sutcliffe) targeted mainly prostitutes or women he thought were prostitutes. David Peace’s first novel, Nineteen Seventy Four, is a fictional work about the time and area of the Yorkshire Ripper. Peace is from Ossett, West Yorkshire and thus is quite intimate with the area and time period. In this book he recreates the era of the Yorkshire Ripper. We follow the narrator/ protagonist, Edward Dunford, as he takes a job as a North of England Crime Correspondent for a local paper. A young girl is missing and although a search is made, it is presumed she is dead. Then her horribly mutilated and tortured body is found. Edward tries to link her murder with the disappearance of other young girls but is thwarted by the local police, wealthy real estate owners/ contractors, and his own paper.

There is nothing pleasant about this book at all. It is crude and vulgar, using short, choppy sentences and half sentences along with dialog and copious amounts of cursing. This is the feel of the ugly side of Yorkshire in the 1970s. Peace does an excellent job of recreating the odd relationship the police had with the public. The police were notorious for doing things THEIR way regardless of law. Both possible suspects and general witnesses were intimidated by the police. Edward has numerous run-ins and is repeatedly beaten, threatened, and tortured by authority figures. All the while he tracks down the people behind the serial murders and opens the reader’s eyes to a brutal universe.

This is an excellent, if not pretty, read and is followed by Peace’s other works in this series, Nineteen Seventy Seven, Nineteen Eighty, and Nineteen Eighty Three.