Britain's 'Gomorrah' to expose gangland violence

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The Independent Culture

In 1991, David Simon's non-fiction book Homicide: Life on the Streets lifted the lid on the Baltimore Police homicide squad. In 2006, Roberto Saviano's bestseller Gomorrah cast light into the murky Neapolitan underworld. Now a British author is set to do the same for our law enforcers and criminals after two years working with Britain's top police forces.

Gavin Knight's Hood Rat, released in July, follows police forces and crooks in Manchester, London and Glasgow. Knight spent two years embedded with the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police's specialist task force XCalibre, as well as following heroin addicts, youth workers and charities. Film Four has bought rights to the book, which is written in a thriller style, and plans a feature-length film.

"It's harrowing, shocking, compassionate, incredibly fast-paced and gripping," said a spokesperson for the book's publisher, Picador. "It brings to mind the likes of Truman Capote and Richard Price."

The Film Four executive who bought the rights earlier this year described Anders Svensson, a Manchester detective featured in the book, as a "very powerful cinematic character". The book describes a mixture of real people and fictional characters. Svensson, one of the latter, is an XCalibre detective constable on the trail of two Moss Side gangsters.

Elsewhere, real people's names are used. In a section labelled "Glasgow", Knight tells of the Scottish crime expert Karyn McCluskey, the civilian deputy head of Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit, as she attempts to stem gang violence in Glasgow. In 2008, Ms McCluskey implemented a system in Glasgow in which gang members met the relatives of their victims.

The London sections of the book focus on a 19-year-old Hackney gang-member "Pilgrim", also a made-up name, who is wanted for attempted murder and teams up with "Troll", a Somali child-soldier turned gang apparatchik who sells drugs on Southhall's Havelock Estate.

Knight hopes to follow in the foot-steps of other successful British true crime authors. His novelistic style could also be a hit with Britain's huge number of crime fiction fans, who last year spent around £143m on the genre.