A murder mystery based on a football match is rare, and perhaps not generally appealing those not interested in sport. Fortunately for those not massively knowledgeable about the football teams of the 1930s, most of the facts about the game are either given or not vital to understanding the plot. It is in fact an intriguing murder mystery irrespective of its setting, but its football theme gives another closed community from which the police must discover their suspect and find the supporting evidence. In its time this was very much a fashionable book, tied to a film version of the mystery and featuring a facsimile of the autographs of the actual Arsenal team of the time. It came very close to being a celebrity book, with the prolific writer Leonard Gribble providing the mystery which featured at least one real person. I was very pleased to receive a review copy of this book, well produced in its new British Library Crime Classic cover.
The action of this book begins with a football match between Arsenal and a fictional amateur team, the Trojans. Although the Gunners are playing well, the Trojans are worthy opponents and their new player Doyce is making a notable contribution. A dramatic fall leads to an investigation which draws in the police in the persons of Inspector Slade and his sergeant Clinton. A wide ranging discovery of motives and clues takes in the women associated with the teams, as well as memories of past tragedies. Certain technical details of poisoning feature, as in many respects this is a traditional whodunnit with the police trying to work out the how, who and why, if only because one rather leads into another. The geography of the (real) Arsenal stadium of the day means that only a certain number of people had access to the relevant room at the vital time, so the range of suspects is limited as in any good murder mystery, but there are plenty of surprises to come in this twisting novel. Slade makes one imaginative leap but essentially it is a logically worked out novel, with suspense until the last few pages.
I must admit to a certain lack of enthusiasm for this novel before I started, as my football knowledge was only extensive in the 1970s. Having started to read, and using the listing of the teams, however, I soon began to be drawn into this well written novel, featuring well written characters in what became realistic settings. Gribble was obviously a writer who appreciated the value of minor characters, as even the caretaker of some flats is well drawn. The women in the novel are not always terrifically active, but that is partly because of the largely male /football setting. The two or three who do feature are so opposite to each other that they manage to be significant. A well paced novel with an helpful and informative Introduction from Martin Edwards, this is to be recommended to even the most football resistant mystery fan, and there is much to be enjoyed as even Slade’s sidekick wonders if he has successfully solved the crime.
Two murder mystery reviews in one week does not mean that I have not been reading other sorts of books! Other reviews are and will be available.
I am waiting for a delivery of delicious ice cream from a charity ice cream maker in Derby “Just Ice” if you want to look up their mouth watering flavours. It’s not all for me and Northernvicar though, as we are hoping that some people will join us for the Vicarage Tea Party tomorrow….!