We hate to think that the world is an ugly place. Even with a bleak landscape of cynicism and jaded social community surrounding us, we long to believe that people are basically good and that existence, albeit bested by tragedy and pain, is more or less moral. Unfortunately, crime and other hideous acts against humanity rear their all too frequent head to remind us of those well worn ethical cliches: that there is not greater monster than man, that individuals, when not looking for ways to undermine each other, are actually plotting sickening acts of serial madness, and that those empowered with protecting us and who find duty in such deliverance may have ulterior intentions themselves.
Thus we have the Red Riding Quartet, a powerful collection of fiction by UK writer David Peace (an ironic name, indeed). The four novels, each named after a year (Nineteen Seventy-Four, Nineteen Seventy-Seven, Nineteen Eighty, and Nineteen Eighty-Three), center around the infamous “Yorkshire Ripper” case that spooked the seemingly sedate English countryside in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s—though it’s really only part of a multi-layered approach. Within each individual narrative, we get subtexts involving personal ambition, police corruption, abuse of power, and that most well worn of “ugly underneath” archetypes—the small, secluded, close knit community rife with redolent secrets. Instead of arguing for crime and punishment as a neat and tidy affair, Peace parlays our already ripe skepticism into a noir of gratuitous grimness.