When 17-year-old Eddie Savage learns that the body of his brother, Steve, has been washed up in the Thames, it is shocking enough. But then he finds out that Steve was working undercover for the police, and was probably murdered in the line of duty. Determined to avenge his brother’s death, Eddie says goodbye to his old life, and goes undercover too. His first mission is to infiltrate a tough south London gang, and get some implicating dirt on its guv’nor, Tommy Kelly.
‘Powerful, compelling stuff that pulls no punches,’ says Mark Billingham in his cover quote for this, Peter Cocks’ first novel, for ages 14+. The choice of an author of such gritty adult crime novels as Bloodline and From the Dead to champion Long Reach is a telling one. Not that Long Reach fails to live up to Billingham’s billing, for it certainly qualifies as ‘powerful and compelling’. But rather because the fare served up here is ‘adult’ indeed. ‘Cocks’ are ‘put on the block’. Vicious henchmen of the gangland sever fingers, kneecap, and worse. Copious amounts of cocaine are snorted. A character is executed at point blank range for alleged disloyalty. And later comes a quite sickening murder, when a nightclub owner is sliced almost in half with a Samurai sword, and his body clinically disposed of.
That’s not to say that any of this is gratuitous. Cocks has clearly done his research into the shady world he describes, and this is a story that smacks of authenticity, and is probably all too real. In fact I found myself longing for a couple of human sub-plots to relieve the one-track brutality and nihilism. And Eddie’s internal moral tussle, while touched on, is not sufficiently explored for my sensitivities. But the main point here is that, aside from its teenage protagonist, there is nothing ‘young adult’ about this novel at all. Give it to a 14-year-old if you wish, but know this: it’s not for the faint-hearted reader of any age.