Walker Books 2010
I can oft be found bemoaning the lack of decent crime thrillers in young adult fiction. It's a genre that I adore in adult books – a guilty pleasure. I'll read pretty much anything on the crime shelves (well, not the true crime stuff – although The Suspicions of Mr Whicher was pretty amazing) and so was quite interested when contacted about Long Reach. Until I realised that it had a gangland-ish London setting – not really my cup of tea. However, on realising my love of the genre the publisher cunningly noted that Long Reach had been blurbed winningly by Mark Billingham. Billingham is one of my very favourite UK crime authors and I was instantly persuaded to give this title a go.
Long Reach is the story of Eddie Savage. At seventeen, Eddie has just lost his older brother, Steve, to suicide. Steve seems to have been a rather elusive, if not unloving, figure in Eddie's life and it soon becomes apparent that there was a lot more to him than met the eye. Steve's colleague, a friend of Eddie's family, explains that Steve had actually been working for an intelligence gathering agency and that his sudden demise leaves an undercover job waiting to be filled. Eddie jumps straight in and is soon swimming with the sharks of London's organised crime – in deeper water than he ever could have imagined.
Eddie himself is a bit of a blank canvas. As a reader, you never actually find out his real name (Eddie Savage being the cover provided to him by his team of whatever-they-are back at the intelligence collecting ranch) and know very little about the person he was before taking up his new job. The only thing that is clear is that he is a bright guy who was perhaps floundering a bit in the face of his future. Knowing so little going in means that Eddie's character development happens entirely through his undercover persona – a persona that he becomes increasingly lost in. This is essentially a clever way of encouraging the reader to relate to Eddie's confusion over who he is and who is may be becoming. Eddie doesn't know, so neither do we. If that sounds confusing, it really isn't – the novel is narrated by Eddie in the first person so enough of his actual personality shines through that readers slowly get to know him. It's a refreshing way of introducing a character and makes the book particularly gripping.
As with many crime thrillers, the supporting cast of characters are just as important as the lead. In this case, it's the bad guys that we get to spend most time with and The Kelly family are painted very nicely. While the men take care of business, by whatever means possible, the women turn a blind eye – choosing to ignore or deny the realities of said business while enjoying the perks. Eddie's back up team are like an underpaid, less attractive version of the cast of Spooks. Certainly their premises seem a bit grubbier. Saying that, Tony and Ian are pretty interesting characters with Ian ripe for some interesting character development in future stories. The women in Eddie's life are probably the weakest strands in the whole book. Anna and Sophie aren't particularly well defined as characters and while I can see potential with Anna, Sophie seemed to exist only as a plot device – which in terms of Eddie's undercover operation, I suppose she was.
The writing and the plot of Long Reach are sparse, dark and often violent. I have no problem with this as I think that Peter Cocks is true to the world that he portrays – I doubt that the London of organised crime families is a pretty place to inhabit. My only issue was the initial conceit that a covert intelligence agency would recruit a seventeen year old. While Eddie's age is brought up in regards to this, it still seems odd – as does his grieving mother's readiness to allow her youngest son to take on a role that appears to have driven her eldest to suicide. However, once you get past this Long Reach fairly speeds along drawing both Eddie and the reader into an increasingly grim world. Cleverly, short sections of the book are written from the point of view of a Kelly henchman giving a different perspective on what is going on. These sections become increasingly brutal – this is not a book for the faint-hearted or weak of stomach – but add a dimension to the book that gives it the grittiness required for the genre.
If you are a fan of adult crime fiction then this is definitely worth a peek. It could easily be read as an adult thriller yet will also sit nicely on the YA shelves – appealing to boys of 15+ especially. I hope that this marks the start of more crime thrillers in YA as Long Reach certainly proves that it is a genre that can work just as well for a younger audience. Personally, I'm delighted to hear that there is another Eddie Savage thriller in the works as he is a character that has real potential to thrill written by a writer with real potential to be the first big thing in YA crime writing.
Long Reach is available now - thank you to Walker for sending me this title to review.