As soon as we read the opening lines of Alan Gibbon's latest novel, 'The gun is power. The gun can make a weak man strong', we are left with no option but to undertake an uncomfortable journey into a world where violent crime and gang rivalry is commonplace. Based in England's Northwest (where Alan has lived all his life) this book gives a voice to the youths who are often hidden by hoods drawn tight around their heads and scarfs pulled across their faces.
The novels two main characters are brothers Alex and Ethan. They live on the Green, a bleak, inner city estate where unemployment and poverty is commonplace and where gangs, not the police make the rules. Alex, older of the two, is a member of 'The Tribe', one of the estates most notorious gangs. Ethan is a promising footballer, training with a Premiership club and sees this as his opportunity to escape the Green.
However the Green, and the gangs that roam this desolate wasteland won't let Ethan go that easily. Drawn into a violent feud between the estates two rival gangs, and with his football career shattered by injury, Ethan must look to a darker and altogether more violent way to escape the clutches of the Green.
Gibbons portrayal of an estate where young men are imprisoned by poverty, joblessness and crime is harsh and powerful. Alex, not academically successful and with no prospect of unemployment sees the gang as giving purpose to his life. He can feel useful, respected and can earn some money, albeit illegally. Ethan dreams of a life beyond the Green. Initially he sees sport as his way out but after an injury setback a relationship with a girl opens his mind to escape via academic success.
It is when these two strands of the novel collide, Alex's involvement in the world of 'The Tribe' and Ethan's attempts to escape the Green that the pace of the novel really picks up. After successfully setting the scene Gibbon's strikes the match and the novel explodes into life. The threat of violence begins to hang heavy on every page and at times comes graphically to the forefront. Gibbons has a distinctive short, sharp writing style and his style helps to increase the tension as the book hurtles towards its tense and gripping conclusion.
The presence of the gun, lurking in the background since that opening page, now releases its safety catch and ready's itself for its part in the story. With Ethan embroiled in a gangland feud which shows no way out he is given the ultimate moral dilemma. Should he pull the trigger? It would be unfair to reveal Ethan's decision but this is far from end of the novel as an unexpected twist in the final pages of the books ensures the reader is left feeling somewhat exhausted after the final few chapters of the book.
Gibbons novel explores the complex issue of gun crime and the far reaching consequences it can have. In addition it also highlights the despair felt by young people in some areas of inner city Britain at this moment in time. It never seeks to glamorous the role of gangs or of gun crime but does, importantly, raise a number of issues for discussion.
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