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.