Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.
I’d never thought of mainline criminal gangs having to pay protection money to other criminals in order to stay in business. Yet Howard Linskey has woven this concept so neatly into his tale of northern crims, it doesn’t seem at all unlikely.
Told through the eyes of David Blake, who sees himself as a white-collar gangster, associated with but not part of the violence and corruption practiced by his boss, top Newcastle crime thug, Bobby Mahoney, this is a high-tension trip through the seedy corridors of the Geordie criminal elite. And one which forces Blake to recognise just how close to the grit and nastiness he really is.
The drop of the title is the regular payment of money by Mahoney’s gang to a shadowy organisation in the south, guaranteeing them a free hand to carry on their trade and the promise of inside information should the Serious & Organised Crime Squad start to take an undue interest in their activities.
Unfortunately for Blake, the latest drop has gone missing, along with its courier.
As the drop is part of his responsibility, he’s given a very limited time to find out what happened to it… and prove that he’s not actually involved in its disappearance. Failure on both counts means a particularly violent death.
So begins a violent ride into Newcastle’s criminal underworld, where we meet a colourful and skilfully drawn cast of characters. There’s Mahoney, the ruthless and unforgiving boss; Finney, his granite-hard enforcer; Blake’s brother, Danny, a reclusive and traumatised former Para; Sharp, Blake’s own insider on the local police force; the Gladwells, the top crime family from Glasgow with an eye to taking over in Newcastle as well; Sarah, Mahoney’s 21-year old daughter, who makes no bones about her feelings for Blake – possibly the biggest danger he faces should he even think of succumbing to the temptation – and a supporting crew of bodyguards, gang members and former Spetznaz - Russian special forces - hard men.
This is a classic tale of a man hemmed in on all sides by dubious friends, vicious enemies, zealous cops… and the certain promise of a limited future if he doesn’t stay ahead of the game. We share the turbulent and murderous side of gang life through the eyes of someone kidding himself that he’s an innocent, but slowly being forced to become a very different person to the ‘plastic gangster’ tag fastened on him by one of his less admiring colleagues.
This is a cracker of a tale unrolled with great understatement but loaded with verve and pace. The backdrop is brutal, harsh and downright fatal for some, the characters jump right off the page, and I found the book difficult to put down. Described by the publishers’ blurb as ‘Get Carter for the 21st Century’, this more than lives up to that pedigree.
No Exit Press has found a real winner. I look forward to Linskey’s next book.