“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.
Friday, August 16, 2013
Shankly arrived at Liverpool in 1959, when the club was mired in Second Division mediocrity. As a player Shankly had captained Scotland and won the FA Cup with Preston North End, but his managerial career at Carlisle, Grimsby Town and Huddersfield Town was unremarkable prior to joining Liverpool. A life-long socialist, Shankly blended his philosophy in life with the financial resources of Liverpool Football Club and tapped into the dormant passion of the club’s supporters. By the time of his shock retirement in 1974, Liverpool FC had won three First Division Championships, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup. In place were the fundamentals that would yield, by the time of his death in 1981, a further four Championships, three European Cups, a League Cup, a UEFA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup.
It’s those fundamentals that concern David Peace. The author made his reputation as the author of the ‘Red Riding Quartet’, crime novels set against the backdrop of the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper which featured a distinctively clipped, telegraphic style. He arrived in the mainstream as the author of THE DAMNED UTD, an account of Brian Clough’s ill-fated 44-day tenure as the manager of Leeds United in 1974.
Peace combines a unique style with a football story in RED OR DEAD, those repetitions (“Bill stared out at the line. In the garden, in the rain. The pouring rain. The empty, hanging line. Redundant in the rain.”) emphasising Bill Shankly’s approach to football, which focused on reducing the game to its most basic tenets and repeating them over and over again. Initially irritating, the repetitive style soon takes on a hypnotic quality, a lulling rhythm of everyday routines irregularly punctuated by triumph and failure.
The style also incorporates Shankly’s attention to detail, and his famed use of psychology. To ensure a daily and intimate identification with the club, for example, the Liverpool players changed at Anfield and then took the bus to their training ground at Melwood, rather than togging out at the training ground, as most football clubs did.
If the style is the book’s most notable feature on first encounter, however, it’s very much a novel on the theme of substance. Shankly, who believed himself a born socialist, and who worked down a coalmine before becoming a professional footballer, had a vision of how a football club should interact not only with its supporters (‘the People’, as Shankly called them), but also the club’s heartland. Despite all Liverpool’s success, Shankly never lost sight of the importance of the imperishable bond between the players on the pitch and ‘the People’ on the Kop.
It’s a hagiography, of course, and David Peace makes little attempt to hide his admiration for Shankly and the way he went about his work. It’s a hagiography in the mediaeval style, however, in which a man is praised not for who he is, but according to the stark testimony of his deeds. Even more than Bill Shankly, however, it is the game of football itself, and its importance to its working-class constituency, which is the recipient of Peace’s love letter. Bill Shankly, for all his charisma and achievements, is simply the man who represents for Peace the incarnation of the game’s significance.
There’s a caveat, of course: I’m a football fan, and I can’t say how a reader who isn’t a fan will cope with the minutiae of, say, training sessions that took place five decades ago. For this Liverpool fan the book is a joy, a powerful and moving tale of how, to paraphrase Bill Shankly, football isn’t simply a matter of life or death, but the stuff of life itself. – Declan Burke
David Peace will be appearing at Eason’s on O’Connell Street, Dublin, on Tuesday, August 20th, where he will be interviewed by Paul Howard. For all the details, clickety-click here …
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
What crime novel would you most like to have written?
FREAKY DEAKY (Elmore Leonard). The opening is so well done.
What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
James Schuyler (NY poet), Billy Collins, Roger McGough … (“Time wounds all heels.”)
Most satisfying writing moment?
Having a poem published in the TLS - and getting paid £25 for it - in 1981!
If you could recommend one Irish crime novel, what would it be?
CHRISTINE FALLS - Benjamin Black.
What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
CHRISTINE FALLS - Benjamin Black.
Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst - when you look back on a piece of work that seemed inspired when you wrote it, to discover it is dross. Best - when you look back on a piece of work that seemed rubbish when you wrote it, to discover it is quite good.
The pitch for your next book is …?
Meet Daniel Hennessy - artist, mental patient, sociopath. Released on compassionate grounds due to terminal illness, Danny has one last mission to perform,
Who are you reading right now?
Short Stories (Chekhov); THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Jordan Belfort); THE REASON I JUMP (Naoki Higashida); CADILLAC JUKEBOX (James Lee Burke)
God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
Dark. Witty. Tight.
Frank McGrath’s THE CUT is published by Longboat Publishing.