A couple of things to declare from the start. firstly, I am not a Leeds fan and secondly I was probably too young and removed from holding a view about whether or not Brian Clough was a genius.
But in the spirit of making declarations it is worth pointing out that after having read the Red Riding quartet by David Peace I was in the mood for another book so came to this with familiarity of the style and the voice.
That voice is one of paranoid violence and in this case comes from the lips and thoughts of Clough as he rambles through 44 days in charge of a club that he hates surrounded by players and staff who despise him. Peace weaves in the back story of how Clough got to the position of being manager at Leeds with the success at Derby and the pivotal relationship with Peter Taylor, who importantly opted to pass on Leeds, but it is the Leeds story that is captivating.
A man with a drink problem, a fragile God complex and a hatred for the methods of others enters a club that has already enjoyed success and simply starts to tear it apart. Clough’s aim was to make them better and play more attractive football but the way he went about it was bound to fail. he failed to turn up at training sessions, goaded the players and when they expected his backing as a manager he gave them none.
But Peace is careful to give his Clough depth and although he is a severely flawed character the reasons for his yearning for success and wealth are laid bare with his playing career cut short by injury and his hard upbringing in the North East. You never quite fall for the man but you understand, particularly with even the scantiest knowledge of what happened afterwards at Nottingham Forest, that Clough had something.
The fact that you put the book down with that opinion indicates that this is more than the one-sided hatchet job that some people have made out. Maybe Clough wasn’t as aggressive but that’s what Peace’s Yorkshire is like. Maybe it was always going to be too dangerous taking on such a well known character and well documented events and using them as the ingredients for fiction. But for the neutral, the non fan of anything to do with the book, this is a gritty tale exposing the fragility of luck in sport and the naivety of those involved in the game.
A tough read but far from a defeat. Perhaps to put it in the context of a Clough Leeds result it was one of his better efforts, a draw.
The Yorkshire ripper is still going strong and the failure of the Yorkshire police to catch him is a cause for concern. But of course David Peace is offering much more than that simple synopsis in the dark and poetical world inhabited by corrupt cops and killers.
To sort out the problems of corruption Peter Hunter is sent in from the Manchester force to set up a squad looking into the way that the Ripper enquiry has been handled. His secret brief is to try and discover if the Yorkshire force has been guilty of corruption to the extent that it has compromised its own ability to solve the crime.
Hunter is seen as a trouble shooter unafraid of unpopularity and already aware, from a previous brush with a Post Office raid condoning inspector, about the problems that are waiting for him on the other side of the moors.
But added to the story of foiling corruption that is so long established and so interlinked that it is almost impossible for an outsider to crack the importance of relationships, juxtaposed events and the significance of certain geographies. Hunter does his best but is also haunted by his own failure to have children and his dependent wife.
He finds that he is caught out in a classic suggestive compromise linked to a dodgy businessman and when he starts to get close to a secret, which is not yet fully understood by the reader, he is rewarded with having his home burnt down.
Just as with 1974 certain crimes and places act as a magnet and out of the past comes the character of BJ. Former informer for Dunford and well connected the tortured figure attempts to reach out to Hunter and inform him about the past. He fails not because he comes across as a madman but also because Hunter is simply unable to put it all together and see things for what they really are.
The climax sees Hunter clinging on like so many others not just to his sanity but his life. He has been to hell and back suffering nightmares and visions.
The fact they capture the Ripper is down to a stroke of luck but even then the most contientious crimes are denied leaving them back in doubt. Who really killed them is something that Hunter gets close to but because he doesn’t understand the motive he misses. Likewise those that could spill the beans are haunted by the past and in too deep to reveal the truth.
But what is truth in a world where night brings nightmares and visions that overlap with the horrific events of the day? What is truth in a world where your friend and neighbour can also be a killer and the policeman you trust someone who is worse than a criminal?
It is with those questions buzzing round your head that you step onwards to the conclusion and 1984.
Where 1974 had a story that you could get to grips with 1977 is more difficult to define. Probably for that reason it was the only one of the books left out of the recent TV adaptation of David Peace‘s Red Riding books.
If it could be summed up with a theme it would be angels and devils. At the heart of it are two characters that were on the fringes in 1974. The senior crime correspondent who was so hated by Eddie Dunford Jack Whitehead is in one corner and in the other is the priest come exorcist Martin Laws.
Whitehead has suffered watching his wife having a nail hammered into her skull as some sort of primitive attempt to exorcise her of her demons and despite that is drawn to having the same treatment.
Against the background of the beginning of the Yorkshire Ripper’s reign of terror Laws is working on a different plane trying to cajole and manipulate Whitehead among others into taking steps that might not only be fatal but you start to suspect are part of a bigger game. Laws simply keeps turning up having a relationship with too many people.
With a drink problem, a growing cynicism of his colleagues and the police after the Dunford experience Whitehead is drawn back to reporting on the Ripper reluctantly.
He coins the term Ripper and is the one who is visited nightly by ghosts of his ex wife but warnings of the actions of the ripper. As he becomes more detached from reality you get that same sense that existed with 1974 that Leeds is not just a world of the seen but also frighteningly is being driven by forces that few can understand.
Whitehead at least appreciates the forces at work but when he tries to master them he finds himself unable to get anywhere.
Meanwhile a third character Bob Fraser, a connection with Dunford in the first book, comes into his own. As his prostitute lover is threatened by the ripper he starts to lose the battle to balance family and mistress. He then falls on the wrong side of his work colleagues as he starts to find out that his girlfriend is part of a bigger issue.
That collapse of faith in the force and those around him ends with his death but for the reader is provides more pieces of the jigsaw to carry forward to the next book.
The same names, locations and visions keep being repeated like a chant throughout the book. Although it might be difficult to work out what is happening at various points it is possible to feel the mood through immersing yourself in the experience.
That last word ‘experience’ is something that could be applied to the quartet in general because Peace is challenging you to participate. To try and solve the crimes, to work out who is corrupt and corruptible and to try and work out how it has happened and what it means about the state of Britain in the 1970s and the state of Yorkshire.
There are several levels with which you can engage with David Peace. On one it is almost poetic with images and words being repeated and manipulated to support the grim Yorkshire landscape.
On another it is a more traditional narrative charting a journalist’s desperation to make his name and get through the corruption to the truth. He fails to understand at the start just how deep the corruption has spread and just how and why little girls have gone missing and occasionally turned up dead.
The year 1974 is reinforced through references to news events, cars, music and fashions. In that sense it reminds you of Life on Mars but that is where any resemblance ends.
Because this is a story that is written in a gripping adrenaline pumped way it is hard to stop yourself getting dragged into the experience that Peace creates for the reader. This is much more than just a straightforward story about events unwinding against a historical background but is a test of a reader’s ability to grasp geography, character relationships and the significance of events.
As it is the first in a series of four this is also an introduction to the world of Leeds and the surrounding environment where the lines between friend and foe are far from black and white. This Northern world, where rain and the darkness of night play a crucial role, is not the sort of world that has a corner for the innocent to escape into. If you get caught up then you get caught up regardless of your innocence.
At the heart of the story is Eddie Dunford a crime reporter trying to make a name for himself who discovers that not only is he fighting criminals he can’t see but coming up against barriers from the police, his colleagues and his own boss.
By the end he is so far removed from the normal world he inhabited before he became aware of the depth of the problems in West Yorkshire that he resorts to tactics that at first would have seemed out of character but by the end feel almost natural.
Peace has created a dark world of corrupt coppers, smooth talking criminals and complicit journalists in which explodes the kidnapping and murder of little girls. The way that those crimes are solved reveals the true loyalties that exist in the Yorkshire community. They also reveal the cancerous effect that evil can have not just on those directly involved but the community around them.
You knew that things were always going to end one way, because let’s face it the ending has not been a secret. But what you are left trying to work out is about the character of Clough the man.
The problem with this, although a post story bibliography makes it clear it is incredibly well researched, you are not quite sure whether or not the Clough presented here is the real thing. There is also a line or two about Forest but nothing really to expand on the most successful years of his career or his pivotal relationship[ with Taylor.
No one really comes out of it with honours with the players as guilty of immaturity as their manager. What seems to have defeated Clough more than the results, the players and the ghost of Don Revie is Leeds itself and that is very much in keeping with Peace’s other books. Yorkshire is the real enemy and the only survivor.
A review will come soon…
Clough loses his job at derby and in the present it goes from bad to worse with Leeds. These twin histories provide a glimpse into someone almost unable to appreciate an opposite point if view. You might be able to get away with it when the results are going your way but not when you are losing.
Living in hotels finding hostility everywhere starts to make it almost impossible for clough to settle. He is also haunted by failure and the hated be still feels for don revie. It starts to unhonge him and you can see a collision coming with board and players even before it begins.
This is all against a background of a grim yorkshire sketched out by peace. But he could gave let the landvape talk more like he does in red riding.
In some respects you have to feel sorry for brian clough as he constantly teeters ok the knife edge between success and disaster. Even when derby win the title he is still plagued with doubt and happy to self destruct friendships and good working relationships.
Underneath there is amazing self belief but with a blindness to his drink problem and an unwillingness to accept the true importance of his sidekick peter taylor he is doomed to make mistakes.
One of the biggest as the history if his loathing for Leeds emerges is to happily burn his bridges to settle his own scores. Words and views that come back to haunt him later on.