In 2001, British satirist Chris Morris drew a great deal of fire from the government and popular press for an episode of his mockumentary series Brass Eye entitled “Paedogeddon!” [The program in question mockingly pondered such matters as why Britain was so completely overrun with pedophiles (some disguising themselves, absurdly, as schoolhouses) and what measures could be taken to protect children from being lured into their clutches (including locking the children up in cabinets, and corralling them in stadiums for the night). With the doleful, self-serious tones of a news broadcaster, Morris ingenuously asked, “Why can we no longer think of the British Isles without the word ‘pedoph‘ in front of them?”
Of course the point of Morris’s program—which is both brilliant and in incredibly bad taste—was not to poke fun at the idea of “interfering with children,” but at the mass hysteria, hypocritical moralizing, and even seemingly perverse attraction that the subject causes. And while it might be a stretch to say that there’s something weirdly, specifically British about this medley of confused reactions, the United Kingdom does seem to boast more freakish high-profile sex-criminals and child-murderers than most. The existence of Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Fred and Rosemary West, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, and all the various rippers and stranglers over the years explains the country’s peculiar flair for the mythologization of monsters, fueled by conservative ideologues and red-top tabloids, and met with rubber-necking fascination by the general public.
Enter David Peace, a Yorkshireman self-exiled in Tokyo, with a debut quartet of novels—Nineteen Seventy-Four (1999), Nineteen Seventy-Seven (2000), Nineteen Eighty (2001) and Nineteen Eighty-Three (2002)—that track a legacy of corruption, ennui, and, yes, pedophilia in the Leeds-Bradford area over the span of those titular years. Read Leo Goldsmith’s review of the Red Riding trilogy.