David Peace’s West Riding quartet – 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983 – is an ultra-noir crime series set in and around Leeds in the shadow of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. He is one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists of 2003.
Crimes happen in actual, specific places at actual, specific times to actual, specific people. Crimes, their victims and their perpetrators, sadly define the times in which we live. There is no puzzle, only pain. No humour, only horror. The following 10 books seek to understand the crimes they document through the context and circumstances of the places and the times in which they occurred
1. Beyond Belief by Emlyn Williams
Williams said this account of the Moors Murders case was composed of three elements: fact, interpretation of fact and surmise. It is the combination of these elements that set this book, and all the books on this list, above the voyeuristic or exploitative.
2. Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son by Gordon Burn
Both this book on Peter Sutcliffe and Happy Like Murderers, about the West family, are obsessive, yet utterly compassionate and honest. Gordon Burn is the best British writer there is and I can make a strong case for Alma Cogan as the best British novel since Brighton Rock. Read everything he’s ever written, fact and fiction, and save yourself the cost of an MA in Creative Writing.
3. Killing for Company by Brian Masters
Claustrophobic but compulsive account of the Dennis Nilsen case.
4. The Streetcleaner by Nicole Ward Jouve
An original, feminist dissection of the local culture, media circus and police investigation surrounding the Yorkshire Ripper case.
5. Error of Judgement by Chris Mullin
We are all guilty of the good we did not do, but some less so than others. This is the book that exposed the truth and lies about the Birmingham Bombings. Read it now and hate yourself for your own inaction in the face and knowledge of injustice.
6. State of Siege by Jim Coulter, Susan Miller and Martin Walker
A report on the policing of the miners’ strike of 1984-85, written and published during the event. See above and below.
7. Who Framed Colin Wallace? by Paul Foot
Paul Foot has devoted his life to righting the wrongs in other people’s lives. His books on James Hanratty, Helen Smith, Carl Bridgewater and Colin Wallace are both a testament to his investigative journalism and his own selflessness.
8. Smear! by Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay
The detailed, secret history of Britain from 1964 to 1979, and the role of the secret state in the fall of Harold Wilson and the rise of the Thatcher right. It should be a textbook, but it isn’t. However, all the back issues of Lobster – Robin Ramsay’s journal of parapolitics, which continues where this leaves off – are now available on one essential CD-rom.
9. The Terrorism Trilogy by Martin Dillon
Three books written on the Troubles – The Shankill Butchers, God and the Gun, and The Dirty War – which were revelations to me when I first read them.
10. Bloody Valentine by John Williams
John Williams’s Into the Badlands opened up the world of American crime fiction for me and a generation. This very personal account of the death of a Cardiff prostitute is the most complex, emotional and moving book on this list. Read it.