The Stretch - Stephen Leather

First Chapters - Stephen Leather The Stretch
The Stretch - Stephen Leather book cover

When career criminal Terry Greene is sentenced to life for a murder he didn't commit, his wife has two choices. To walk away from the criminal empire he'd built up, or to take it over. To become as big a gangster as her husband ever was.

So far as Samantha 'Sam' Greene was concerned, there is no choice. All the family's assets are tied up in the business, and family means more to her than anything else in the world.

But being a gangboss doesn't come easily to Sam, not when other criminals are trying to take over what's left of her husband's empire and she's not even sure which of his friends and associates she can trust.

She has problems on the home front, too. An abusive son-in-law and a teenage daughter heading for the wrong side of the tracks. With creditors lining up to bankrupt her and her husband's rivals circling like blood-hungry sharks, Sam finds herself forced into a corner. Her only way out is to prove that she's as tough as any of the men she's up against. And to beat them at their own game.

As Sam gets drawn deeper into a world of drug-dealing and counterfeit money, she realises for the first time the true extent of her husband's illegal activities. And she has to answer two burning questions - can she get her husband out from behind bars? And should she?

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The Stretch was quite a departure for me in that it's the first novel I've written that's based on a screenplay. I originally wrote it as a two-part drama for Sky, starring Leslie Grantham and Anita Dobson, the former Eastenders soap stars.

It's about a gangster's wife, Sam Greene, played by Anita, who has to take over her husband's criminal empire when he gets sent to prison for a murder he says he didn't commit.

It looks great on film, and when I showed the scripts to my editor at Hodder and Stoughton, Jon Wood, he was very enthusiastic about its prospects as a book.

Jon edited The Bombmaker and he did a sterling job helping me get The Stretch into shape as a novel, and it was quite a blow when he announced in July that he was leaving to work for a rival publisher, Orion.

It was line-edited by Sarah Binnersley who also worked on The Chinaman and TheTunnel Rats and who in my humble opinion is one of the best in the business.

We were up against a tight deadline to get the book finished, as we wanted its publication to coincide with the broadcasting of the series on Sky One. I'm well pleased with the result, and I think the dialogue in the book is the best I've ever written.

In some ways it was an easy book to write because I'd already seen many of the scenes being filmed, and it was easy to picture the characters having seen Anita and Leslie play the roles.