Sunday Salon: David Peace and Karin Alvtegen

TSSbadge3 I wasn't sure whether to watch the Red Riding trilogy, based on the quartet by David Peace. I read the first book, 1974, but found it too black, bleak, gruesome, cynical and hard to be able to bear to read more. I sort of decided not to watch the first episode, but in the light of rave reviews in The Times and elsewhere, and an explanation from a daughter about Channel 4 catch-up and how to operate it, I changed my mind and decided to give it a go. It was repellently brilliant. Shot in semi-darkness and through a wall of cigarette smoke, the film did not hold back on the idiocy of the crass, unlikeable "hero" (a cocky young journalist), the brutality to the core of the police, and the sheer unsentimentality, horror and violence of the plot and characters. As the damage-limitation actions of the police got more and more out of control, culminating in an almost sexual frenzy of institutionalised violence, I was reminded of Lord of the Flies for grown-ups (nobody in a white uniform to rescue Ralph here). And the film struck a strong contemporary chord with me: the public trust in and private stench of the corrupt police force has parallels with the outrage a gullible population feels now that it has discovered what the banks were doing with their savings.

I watched the film while half-way through reading Betrayal, a novel by Karin Alvtegen, translated from the Swedish by Steven T. Murray. I've now finished the book and will be submitting a review to Euro Crime in due course. But rarely have I encountered an author who has had such an instantly compelling effect. I have immediately ordered the remaining two of her novels (I have the fourth to read, courtesy of Karen Meek). Betrayal is just as bleak as 1974, but relies entirely on the description of the domestic lives of an apparently "normal" group of people, living ordinary lives. There are no police, no detectives. The suspense depends on the ability of these characters to convince themselves of truths from imperfectly grasped facts, driven by their pasts, their internal prejudices and emotions, rather than rationality and openness. It isn't gruesome or explicit, but it's just as intense, black, cold and tense as Peace's world. Betrayal is a brilliant book, and based on it, the author is in the pantheon of Scandinavian crime fiction.

10 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: David Peace and Karin Alvtegen

  1. I’ll just endorse what you say here about Alvtegen, Maxine. I’ve read all four of her novels to date, and she went straight into my own pantheon of crime writers, Scandinavian or other, with the first. Part of my irritation re the somewhat excessive attention given to certain crime writers, Scandinavian or other but especially Scandinavian at present, is that not a few fine, not to say better in some cases, writers get lost underfoot in the general melee.

  2. I started watched Red Riding on TV when it was screened on Thursday night, but I was so damn tired I decided to go to bed at 10.30pm, with a view to watching the rest on the Channel 4 catch-up service. Imagine my disappointment when I sat down last night to do just that only to find that the service is not compatible with Mac!!! Aaaaaaarrrgggh. I can’t tell you how angry I was. Will wait for my Other Half to come back from Ireland and get him to find a torrent online somewhere, otherwise it might be a long wait before Channel 4 screen it again. The bit I saw was very very good — slow moving but in a kind of dark menacing way.

  3. Forgot to say, I loved Alvtegen’s “Missing” when I read it a couple of years ago. Canongate recently sent me her latest to review (“Shadow”), which I’m really looking forward to reading.
    By the way, if you haven’t discovered it already, she has a great website: http://www.karinalvtegen.com/index_eng.htm

  4. Betrayal I felt it was too bleak for me when I read it in 2007.
    But remembering my reaction at the time it was very gripping, and good psychological crime fiction. Betrayal is like a rapier while Red Riding is as subtle as a battle axe.

  5. I agree with the comments about Karin Alvtegen.
    There is no one better at writing about ‘outsiders’
    and psychological dislocation.I read somewhere
    that this is her fascination.

  6. Hi Maxine, Thanks for the kind and particularly eloquent words about Betrayal. I forwarded a link to Karin, who will appreciate it!
    And Norm, I have to admit the book made me mad the first time I read it. Then I got the translation job and really got into it and wound up loving it. It reminded me of another favorite author, about whom someone once said: nobody ever puts down a James M. Cain novel. With her nomination for an Edgar I hope Karin is about to get the recognition she deserves!

  7. I know what you mean, Kim – the last series I recorded either ended late or I was incompetent, as the recording ended 5 mins before the end of the film. So the only way I’ll know what happened is to read the book, rats!
    Thanks to everyone for your comments – fascinating!

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