Saturday, May 29, 2010
1974. David Peace. Serpent's Tail (1999)
A compelling, deeply unpleasant and unsatisfying crime story. Eddie Dunford has been just appointed as the crime orrespondent for the Evening Post in Yorkshire and starts to follow a story about a young missing girl. The girl's body is found and Eddie finds himself being overshadowed by a more senior crime correspondent. Eddie pursues the possible connection to a previous case of missing girls and finds himself involved with a brutal and corrupt police force and the suspicious activities of some local property developers. With muddy reveals and a conclusion that ties up all the plot threads, the story is effective without ever being engaging. The staccato writing style does make the book compelling to read, the short sentences and the way they are laid out on the page create a clear momentum, they push the reader through the story. The problem is that it also amplifies the two most significant problems with the story.
The narrator, Eddie Dunford, is a hopelessly self-pitying and relentlessly, unpleasantly self-centered. The reader is never given an opportunity to feel sorrier for Eddie than he does for himself, Eddie is swept up in events he does not understand and is treated with merciless brutality by the police and others. Eddie responds with an apathetic frustration and frightened obstinacy while at the same time he treats the women in his life with a deeply callous disregard. When he finally moves to take action at the conclusion of the story, it is done without any sort of emotional crescendo, he is enraged in a entirely dull way.
The whole emotional tone of the story is a dull monotone of whiny self pity with infrequent outbreaks of self-centred rage. Eddie Dunford is such a monumental wet blanket that the brutal events that he is involved in loose their power, it is as if all the action is taking place under water. There is a strong enough story hidden beneath the narration to inspire the reader to finish the story, it is a struggle however.