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Gang Land: From footsoldiers to kingpins, the search for Mr Big

I THOUGHT I would move away from fiction this week and take a fascinating look into the world of true crime, from the small fry who serve drugs on street corners to the Mr Big characters whose influence spans continents.

A former crime correspondent of the Observer, Tony Thompson is widely regarded as one of Britain's top true-crime writers and this book demonstrates why.

By building up a network of “anonymous” contacts, Thompson is able to give an in-depth insight into the gang wars that break out between different neighbourhoods on the London Streets, and how modern gangs taunt each other with rap songs they load to YouTube.

The animosity and hatred built up between rivals has led to many dying on the streets, either stabbed to death or even shot with illegally imported but easily obtained firearms from eastern Europe.

Thompson begins by looking at the drug dealers who make a pittance risking their neck to sell their product on street corners and follows the clues all the way up to the kingpins who make the real money from these illegal enterprises.

It is a fascinating read and more than once the author finds himself in danger, not just from those he is investigating but also the police who mistake him for a gang member.

One particularly frightening moment sees him turn up for a meet with “a contact” only to become aware that he has been set up for an ambush.

While waiting in the darkness outside a night club he realises the heavies getting tooled up are actually coming for him and must escape or end up another victim of these merciless gangs.

I can understand why Tony doesn't advertise himself with pictures on his Amazon and Goodreads biogs. I did find one from his former Observer days, but have a feeling he would rather I didn't use one.

Whatever, this is hardcore stuff, and not for the faint-hearted, revealing as it does secrets about the criminal underbelly that lurks in the darker recesses of all our lives.

5 stars

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