After nearly four decades, Donald Neilson, aka the Black Panther, seems in retrospect like some figment of the phantasmagoric north England of the 1970s, the gothic, occult north of David Peace and the Red Riding trilogy. His crimes ? countless burglaries, three murders (of village postmasters), and the kidnapping of teenage heiress Lesley Whittle ? took him on meticulously planned nocturnal peregrinations across the north and the Midlands against the unfolding background of the three-day week, the oil crisis, and the IRA's first sustained mainland bombing campaign. (Or, if you prefer, between the decline of glam-rock and the rise of punk.) The dead years, in other words, a leaden age.

© Guardian News & Media Ltd

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