Books Read in 2014 – 34. Nineteen Seventy Four (Red Riding 1) – David Pearce

Genre: Crime

Narrative Style: First Person Narrative659058

Rating 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 1999

Synopsis: Ed Dunford is back in Yorkshire with his dream job as a crime correspondent. He begins investigating the horrible death of a little girl and finds himself mired in corruption and violence until he barely knows what is right and what is wrong. 

This book really isn’t for the fainthearted. It is brutal and violent almost from the very first. Ed is thrown into a world he thinks he understands but that really is beyond his very worst imaginings. No one is to be trusted and in the end, Ed feels he has to become like the men he is trying to stop because they are outside of the normal rules of law and order.

Pearce has a lot in common with hard-boiled American writers such as James Ellroy. None of the characters are pleasant, they all double-cross each other. Ed – supposedly the good guy – is just as misogynistic and unpleasant as the rest of them. I have seen complaints about the amount of violence against the female characters in this book and it is true that very few survive the length of the book and those that do are still effected by male violence. However, I feel that given the subject matter of the book and the setting in the seventies, this is to be expected. This is a book about male violence and its consequences. It would seem unrealistic for this violence not to be against women. That said, I’m not sure that Ed needed to be quite so unpleasant towards the women in his life, forcing on into having an abortion, forcing another into anal sex. To me, this was superfluous, an unnecessary addition to the already high levels of misogyny. It added nothing to Ed’s character development.

The narrative voice was convincing throughout – especially as Ed started to unravel. It was interesting to have a hard-boiled novel set in Yorkshire and to have a narrative voice that was so very northern. The pace was perfectly judged with things happening so quickly towards the end it was hard to keep track and no wonder that Ed could barely keep up. I will certainly be reading the next installment.

Books Read in 2014 – 15. Some of Your Blood – Theodore Sturgeon

Genre: Horror, Epistolary
narrative style: a variety of letters, third and first person narration, sturgeon-some-blood-tempsychiatric evaluations and interviews.


Format: Kindle

Published: 1961

Synopsis:A soldier who calls himself “George” is admitted to the army’s psychiatric ward after a vicious attack on the major of his company. The major was concerned about the contents of a letter “George” wrote home to his girl, Anna but the contents are not revealed to the reader until the very end.

Dr Phil Outerbridge is given the task of dealing with a soldier who is surrounded with some mystery. The army want the issue of his attack on the major dealt with quickly and sensitively. The novel opens with a series of letters between Phil and his superior Al, discussing the way in which this case could be dealt with and Phil’s initial impressions of the patient.

At the very beginning, before the story proper, there is a section describing the reader sneaking into Phil’s office (We are assured it is safe, after all it is only fiction) and opening this particularly curious file and working through it.  The different voices and styles that this requires are skillfully handled and the psychiatric reports and analysis are convincing and intelligent.

The soldier is tasked with writing his own story. He is advised that it might be easier in the third person and chooses the name “George” for himself.The third person narrative that follows gives a lot of detail about “George’s” early life, his time in a boys’ home and then in the army and details his love of hunting. Whenever it seems that there may be some sort of revelation, George moves on to the next event and the reader is left wondering exactly what has happened. As Phil later comments, there are a number of holes in his story.

After “George’s” narrative, there follows a number of psychiatric evaluations and interviews in which more details are slowly revealed about the exact nature of “George’s” sickness. The way the story slowly unfolds reminded me of the narrative structure of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde where witness accounts and letters hint at the horror that the reader eventually faces.

In the end, the contents of the letter is revealed and the story finishes with no absolute decision on whether “George” will stay in the hospital or not. Instead, there is a return to the authorial voice of the beginning offering us possible fictional outcomes and inviting us to decide. Then in the final chilling moments, we are warned to hurry in case Phil catches us and it isn’t fiction after all but real. Of course, such horror does exist in the real world and this could easily be a real case study. It is a clever and unnerving ending to what was a clever and unnerving story.

Cinematic Wish Fulfilment – Django Unchained

At the end of last week, I went to see Django Unchained and I have to say that I  loved it. Well, I love Tarantino, the extreme violence, the superb dialogue and the non-linear chronological structures all appeal. So much so that I was quite excited to go and I was not disappointed.

As with all good westerns, retribution was the main theme of Django Unchained. And retribution of a slave against his masters, was a revenge that the viewer could really get behind. Particularly, I thought, at the end when the toadying slave played by Samuel L Jackson got his comeuppance. That was a particularly satisfying moment.

Also, as with all westerns, even the good guys were really bad guys. Django himself has to go through hell to get his freedom and along the way commit acts of atrocious violence. King Schultz, whilst nominally on the side of good, and who helps Django with his scheme, is a bounty hunter who is willing to shoot a man in front of his son if it means he gets his money. This version of history shows us that no one escaped the depravity of slavery – whether it warped the mind of the slave owners or destroyed the slaves, both physically and mentally, it’s brutality was all encompassing. In this sense, the level of violence seemed apt to show the horror of such a system

Tarantino has been criticised for taking on the subject of slavery. Spike Lee, for example, has suggested that he finds the film – or rather the idea of the film, as he doesn’t feel obliged to see it before he passes judgement on it – offensive. Lee makes a number of assumptions in doing this, one of which


seems to be that the only people who are allowed to write about slavery are its victims. There is no doubting that this is a white man’s story about racism but that does not immediately mean that it will be racist. Of course, Tarantino is irreverent. Of course, the violence tends  towards the cartoonish. Perhaps these things do not fit with Lee’s views of what a film about slavery should be about but for me it was far less offensive than a film like The Help which was packed with racial stereotypes. Nevermind the idea of the charismatic white woman who saves the day. (see the following link for more re-created movie posters at

Finally, the main reason I like this film is the same reason that I like Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino seems  to be using his films as a sort of cinematic wish fulfilment, a cinematic version of the idea of if you had a time machine, what would you change. At the end of Inglourious Basterds, Hitler is absolutely obliterated. The explosion at the end of Django Unchained performs a similar function on history. It blows up the house and all in it and as Django and Broomhilda ride away from it, it is the very idea of slavery that is blown sky high. All the horrors of the system, Jackson’s house slave, the man who nearly cut off Django’s gentals, all of Candie’s warped acolytes, they all go up in flames. Apart from Django and Broomhilda, only two seemingly innocent female slaves are allowed to escape. The final explosion is cathartic, releasing Django from his past and allowing him to finally, actually be free.