First published in July of 2011, freelance journalist Gavin Knight’s debut book ‘Hood Rat’ is reportedly a piece of non-fiction with names, dates and characteristics altered to protect the various individuals’ identities.  That said, a good element of elaboration, mild sensationalisation, plot-enhancing ad-libbing and just plain old storytelling has obviously been injected into the book.  So much so that perhaps it would be more at home filed under fiction than true crime?  Nonetheless, Knight clearly did his research, with a rich display of near-first-hand experience on show throughout the book.

DLS Synopsis: 
The book is split into three separate sections, each one projecting the gang-life story from a different major UK city.  There is no over-flow or merging of storylines between these three geographically-split sections.  The only thing that threads the book together is the prevailing grime of the street-crime subject matter.

Manchester - 99 Pages
Detective Andres Svensson has made it his life’s work to put the predominant drug baron – ‘Merlin’ and his ultra-violent and uncaringly sadistic lieutenant – ‘Flow’, behind bars once and for all.  Over the years, Svensson has built up a good network of allies within the Manchester gang culture, with many members, or their girlfriends, trusting and consoling in him.  Now, with Merlin’s release date looming, and Flow already at large on the streets of Manchester, Svensson doesn’t have long to catch the vicious gangster and ensure that his boss never sees the light of day again.  Time is running out, and the gangs are at war; with drugs, violence and exploitation at the head of it all…

London - 102 Pages
Hackney gang-member ‘Pilgrim’ has just been released from prison.  No longer does he see gang-life as desirable as it has so often been cast.  Thoughts of a new life away from the constant draw of crime are emerging for the young man.  But first he needs some capital behind his name.  And the offer of a hit on the Somali child-solider turned vicious gang-thug ‘Troll’ is beginning to open up a few doors for the once highly feared gang member…

Glasgow - 90 Pages
Boasting the highest murder rate in Europe, Glasgow has a very real gang problem on its hands.  Furthermore, with perhaps as little as 30% of crimes in the Scottish city going reported, it now appears that the violence that holds the streets at ransom every weekend is a much greater epidemic than the police thought.  Which is where the Head of Intelligence for West Mercia Police - Karen McCluskey steps in.  Taking inspiration from anti-gang tactics employed by forces in the US, McCluskey has some new ideas of how to get to the very root of this violent plague that sees youths engaging in life-or-death violence in massive territorial battles each and every weekend.  It’s just a question of will she have the backing to achieve the results that they so desperately need…

DLS Review:
As a whole, Knight’s gang-crime book is an incredibly staggered and uncoordinated relaying of the many hard-hitting aspects that surround gang-life in these three major UK cities.  Each section portrays meandering (and often unresolved) snippets of the gang life from a selection of different angles.  Ok – sounds interesting?  It does have its moments, however, largely on the whole the delivery and final presentation of these storylines is sadly far too fragmented and weak.

Knight does fill his book with a vast array of somewhat challenging insights into the reality of this underground lifestyle.  Glamour is utterly wiped away from this much more truthful image of the depressing lives that are portrayed across its pages.

One of the most vital elements to the success of this type of book is with the characterisation.  Alas, depth and development of the characters is incredibly hit-and-miss throughout.  Indeed, often the leading characters are defined more by their actions than by their personal roles, traits and personalities.  Emotional responses, whether from victims or the perpetrators, is again another angle that was sadly lacking.

Where ‘Hood Rat’ really does make its ground is with the gritty realism of the book.  It’s uncompromising and uncensored approach to the subject matter is what really holds the reader’s attention.  Like with Graham Johnson’s ‘Soljas’ (2010), there are numerous scenes of a very graphic and strong nature.  However, where ‘Hood Rat’ stands taller is with the more realistic edge that it intentionally maintains.

Although the book does deliver what it obviously set out to do – delivering a true life portrayal of the modern-day gang culture within Britain – ‘Hood Rat’ still ends up as too much of a disjointed read with too little of a development in message and final stance.  After finishing the book, the reader comes away feeling as if nothing has really been accomplished.  Perhaps this was an intentional move – but for me at least, it left me feeling a little too cold.

However, with a FilmFour adaptation of the book on the horizon (at the time of writing), Knight seems to have clearly managed to hit the right buttons for others.  It has its merits, but for me (and perhaps I am one of the few) its flaws were too predominant.

The book runs for a total of 301 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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