Paying homage to Orwell’s 1984, Peace pulls no punches in a fast-paced, violent smash-and-grab of murder and mayhem in Leeds, England. Recently returned for the death of his father, Eddie Dunford is the new crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post. His first assignment: the disappearance of ten-year-old Clare Kemplay.
Monitoring the police for signs of progress in this week before Christmas, the newsroom is taking bets on whether the girl will be found dead or alive. Keeping their investigation close to the vest, the detectives don’t trust the press any more than the reporters trust them. But Eddie is happy to see his byline in print, alternating long nights at a local pub with work, the two sometimes indistinguishable. When Clare is found dead, photographs reveal a disturbing view of someone’s private hell, images Dunford can’t get out of his mind.
While gathering information, Eddie stumbles upon two others girls missing under similar conditions. He makes the first tentative links between these disappearances and other layers of activity in Leeds, a convoluted mix of business and government, facts and suspicions that point to massive corruption and criminal activity, all under the radar of local authorities, and far more pervasive than first appears.
Suddenly Jack Whitehead takes over Eddie’s assignment, a prize-winning, alcohol-fueled reporter who knows all the right people. Dunford is assigned background, backup to the more seasoned veteran. But by now, Dunford has caught the scent of larger prey and a more sinister agenda. The dead little girl is never far from his thoughts, horrifying images of a child’s body and mutilated swan’s wings, a ghostly reminder to make someone pay for this casually heinous crime. By now a suspect has confessed. Case closed. But not for Eddie.
Nose to the ground, Dunford does his own investigation, interviewing people long after he has been warned off. Spewing expletives along with the Christmas carols that fill the air, Eddie slogs through a swamp of corruption and greed, his search corroborated by the extensive notes of another reporter killed in a convenient accident. Renting a room in a seedy motel, Dunford sifts through documents, making lists of names and associations.
Leeds in the 1970s is tribal, insular, protecting its own and swiftly dealing with intruders. A child’s murder quickly escalates into a mélange of crooked schemes, racism, police brutality, cronyism and betrayal that makes a mockery of innocence. In this moral quagmire, Dunford is but one step ahead of an organization that infects all levels, too pervasive to respond to the usual methods.
By the time Dunford has burned all his bridges, there are no alternatives. Battered, beaten in a police interrogation and raging with pain and frustration, Eddie is out of options save one, covered with filth but never as dirty as the men he confronts. In a world that lives by violence and exploitation, where innocence receives short shrift, Eddie responds in kind, a carnival ride littered with the corpses of the damned, Dunford hand-delivering his RSVP.