British author David Peace created a landmark achievement with his Red Riding Quartet of novels. These stories all deal with a series of crimes and brutal slayings that take place in the northern part of the United Kingdom over the decade ranging from 1973 to 1983.
Nineteen Seventy-Seven is the second novel in the quartet. The first, Nineteen Seventy-Four, featured Eddie Dunford, new crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post. Eddie’s first assignment: report on the brutal murder of a young girl named Clare Kemplay. As Eddie begins investigating the case on his own, he turns up information that potentially connects the murder to a series of disappearances and murders of other young women in the same area. Eddie digs deeper, uncovering a wealth of corruption and unsavory politics taking place in the northern part of the U.K. that sees itself as untouchable. Unfortunately for Eddie, his obsession with uncovering the case puts him in the line of fire and eventually costs him his life.
The story shifts a few years forward to 1974. Another journalist from the Yorkshire Post, Jack Whitehead, teams with veteran police detective Bob Fraser to cover a series of brutal murders involving local prostitutes. Jack Whitehead knows firsthand what happened to his former colleague and recognizes that he must tread lightly to protect himself against the same forces that silenced Eddie. The media has tagged the killer ‘The Yorkshire Ripper,’ a moniker that makes things that much more difficult for the police to identify the elusive murderer.
As Whitehead and Fraser pursue this case both individually and jointly, they are led down sordid paths where no one can be trusted and a high-level cover-up may be in play. In separate instances, both Whitehead and Fraser cross the line with individual witnesses and find themselves in the midst of elicit affairs that may or may not be intentional leverage against their findings in their investigation. Working valiantly to sort out the evidence and witnesses they are uncovering, both Whitehead and Fraser realize that there may be more than one killer behind this series of brutal slayings.
Peace brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the mid-1970s’ UK and puts the reader firmly in that time period. His quartet of novels have been adapted into a trilogy of “Red Riding” films that have found success both in the UK and abroad. Gritty and compelling - crime writing doesn’t get much better than this.