Okay, maybe we didn’t exactly discover them, but here are writers, old and new, that we’d love to see more readers to discover themselves.
It happens this way a lot at the library: call it serendipity in the stacks. I stumbled upon David Peace’s unsettling works quite by chance. Picking up a book titled Occupied City, I was arrested by a grim and grainy photograph inside the front cover showing a nurse standing in a snow covered street next to what one could just make out as a pile of corpses. Then the text got its hooks in me: voices calling to me out of the darkness, phantom voices of the dead, telling of their own demise – based on a true story about a mass murder that occurred in Toyko in January, 1948. A man walked into a bank claiming to be a doctor with the Health Ministry, there to immunize the staff against an outbreak of dysentery. The employees lined up and per his orders, simultaneously took their medicine from teacups, and then began to die. Of the 16 victims dosed by the mysterious stranger, 12 died.
The solution to this crime came swiftly and was altogether unsatisfactory, clouded as it was with hidden ties to Unit 731, Japan’s infamous biological warfare division. Peace’s novel circles the case Rashomon-like in competing, complimentary accounts. Next I read Tokyo Year Zero, an earlier title in a planned trilogy of novels, and again was grasped and harrowed by a highly original tale of a serial killer predating women amidst the post-apocalyptic devastation of the postwar city where justice and humanity hang by the slenderest of threads.
Quite by chance, following my penchant for gritty British crime drama, I picked up the Red Riding trilogy on DVD and suddenly realized it was based on Peace’s previous novels, a quartet of books spanning a violent decade in the author’s native Yorkshire. The films, each with its own director, are brilliant, and as I watched (with subtitles, I admit – the Yorkshire dialect can be tough going) I could feel the resonance with Peace’s Tokyo books – the pervading sense of menace and corruption, the bewildering, miasmic moral universe, the evocative sense of place and time. I love the films, and am quite confident that they haven’t ruined the books for me, which I’ll be reading while I wait for his third Japan novel to appear.
Peace’s writing style, with its incantatory repetitions and dreamlike passages, will not be to every reader’s liking, but for those on whom his intensely original prose works its spell, the result is crime fiction with stunning, heart-rending power. “Haunting” is one of those words that is overused in reviews for stories that are merely spooky or wistful, but I can’t think of a better word for Peace’s writing. It literally made me lose sleep. Enjoy crime noir, James Ellroy, Ken Bruen, or Dostoyevky’s Crime and Punishment? Enjoy dark themes and poetic language? Give Peace a chance.