'It's not that difficult to make crack cocaine'
- Credit: Jennie Ensor
It sounds like a scene from Breaking Bad - a middle-aged Highgate step-mum learns "the mechanics of a drug deal" and how to make crack on her kitchen table.
Fortunately Jennie Ensor is no Walter White, but an author researching her latest book. Silenced begins with the brutal stabbing of a young girl on the orders of a gang leader, and tracks back and forth between DI Callum Waverley's investigation, and two Haringey teenagers who get sucked into The Skull Crew.
Ensor's research involved talking to ex gang members and dealers, visiting Tottenham's Broadwater Farm Estate, and learning more about notorious outfits like the Tottenham Mandem.
"Two years ago I noticed incidents of stabbings and gang related crime were coming closer to my home," says the former freelance journalist.
"There were a few horrific incidents like a 14-year-old shot in the head outside a playground in East London, and my step-daughter who is a teacher came home with stories about pupils who were known to police as the children of high level gangsters. I wanted to know more and go behind the headlines."
Ensor's characters, Luke and Jez, are vulnerable teens, who think they are "calling the shots", then realise they are in too deep. 16-year-old Luke is grief stricken by his mother's death and dealing with an occasionally violent step-dad, while middle-class Muswell Hill teen Jez has an alcoholic mother and is "looking for attention".
"She mistakes love for exploitation and starts carrying guns and knives for the hitman," says Ensor.
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"I wondered what it would be like for a teenage boy and girl who wanted to leave the gang but weren't able to."
Her gang leader V "maintains power and control through fear" and was inspired by real life criminals who used torture to enforce silence including one known as "The Prince of Darkness, and another as "The Godfather of Green Lanes".
"He was a sinister character who had a soundproofed torture room in an ordinary terraced house. It set my imagination going. I was shocked to discover that Green Lanes was the centre of heroin importation in the UK. It was like a parallel universe. One kebab shop owner asked for witness protection and when the police couldn't do anything he had to flee for his life."
While one ex drug dealer shared "hair raising stories about violence and humiliation of people who had transgressed", another charity worker helping young people to leave gangs set up meetings, and supplied details about the "mechanics of a drug deal" which saw her riding around in a car during lockdown.
"Two cars pull up, the windows go down and stuff is exchanged through the window.
"I also learned how to make crack cocaine at home and it's not that difficult. You don't need a massive factory."
Silenced is set on a fictional estate, but the extortion, drug importation and network of gang members, have a ring of truth. Ensor describes it as a "complex and unconventional thriller with multiple threads", adding: "I've really tried to get into all their heads."
Waverley also has a secret related to his father and a fire that traumatised him at 16 leaving him with flashbacks. And he's concerned that gang members may have infiltrated the Police and are hampering his investigation.
Ultimately he has to earn Jez and Luke's trust and break the code of silence that shrouds the case.
As Ensor asks: "Can they have the courage to speak out?"
Silenced is published on December 7 by Hobeck Books price £9.99.