The tough high-rise estates of south-east London are the setting for this story of crime, detection, neighbourhood gangs and international drug-trafficking. When Connor Long, aged ten, falls to his death from a block of flats, his older sister Amber wants to know how and why. Connor was a gifted climber, so did he fall, or jump, or was he pushed? Amber loved Connor, and if someone murdered him she wants revenge. Connor’s is a dysfunctional family, and the boy himself, excluded from school, was part of the mess. His father is in prison; his mother is a negligent drunkard. Amber herself is the family exception – clever, doing well at school, taking mock exams with her eye on college entrance. She is climbing the educational ladder out of her grim life on the Barrier Estate, but she is still family and the urge for retribution draws her into her society’s most violent and seedy corners. On the other hand, it brings her close to three people who stand for a different way of life – her school’s high-powered Deputy Head, Mrs Feldman, an ambitious and efficient young policeman, and a young television reporter, Sunil Dhillon, who first meets her as he seeks for Connor’s photograph, and falls for her.
At one level this is a tough thriller and whodunnit, as Amber gradually uncovers her brother’s life, death and killer, and in the process risks her own survival. At another it is a convincing and disturbing picture of present-day urban London, where gang membership supplants the collapsing family unit and the drug trade prospers. But most of all it is about Amber herself and the choices that face her as an intelligent teenager – choices that will either entrap her in the life she was born to, or set her free. The pace is fast, the plot is skilfully constructed, the book’s values are unpreachily sound, and the author (as he has shown so often in the past) knows the territory.