The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard Gribble

Up the Gunners!

😀 😀 😀 😀

Top football team Arsenal is playing a friendly against the Trojans – an amateur team who have been on an amazing winning streak and are thrilled to be taking on the professionals. The ground is jam-packed – seventy thousand spectators have crammed themselves onto the terraces, mostly Arsenal fans but plenty hoping the Trojans will play well and provide an exciting match. But shortly into the second half, the Trojans’ newest player, right-half John Doyce, collapses and has to be carried off the field. The game continues, with neither players nor crowd knowing that in the treatment room a desperate battle is being carried on to save Doyce’s life. By the time the final whistle is blown, the battle has been lost…

In a lot of ways, this is a standard murder mystery with a Scotland Yard Inspector as detective. But what makes it unique is that it’s set amid the real Arsenal team of its time of writing – 1939 – and the actual players and manager appear in the book. Gribble has also had access to behind the scenes at the stadium, and provides what feels like an authentic picture of what it would have been like playing or working for a top club back then, in the days when even professional sides still had players who had “real” jobs as well as their sporting careers.

I’m not a big football fan, but it’s impossible to be British and not have a reasonable knowledge of the game, and I enjoyed the look back at a time when boys wanted to play for their local teams for the glory of the game, rather than to become fabulously wealthy celebrities with their own clothing label and drug habit – back when sportspeople were actually sporting. It also brought back memories of how terrifying exhilarating it was to be packed like sardines in an overfull stadium, the vast majority of people standing on the terraces with only the posh folk sitting in the stands (yeah, strange terminology, I know), and the horror excitement of the massive surge forward when your team scored. Those days are gone – the major disasters of the seventies and eighties pushed stadiums to become all-seater, so younger fans won’t ever have had that experience – I don’t know whether that makes them lucky or unlucky, to be honest.

Fortunately, however, the book gets out of the football stadium before my reminiscences turned to boredom, and the plot revolves around the personal lives of the players rather than their sporting careers. Unsurprisingly, Gribble’s victim is one of the fictional Trojan players, and the real players and staff at Arsenal play only minor roles. I think it’s also safe to say that the real people can be discounted as suspects! Doyce was an unpleasant chap with a reputation as a womaniser and had given several of his team-mates and the staff of the Trojans cause to dislike him. He’d only joined the club a week earlier, but several of them had played together before in another team, and another of the Trojans was his business partner. So there’s a good pool of suspects and some intriguing motives for Inspector Slade and Sergeant Clinton to investigate.

Inspector Slade is professional in his approach, but is helped along by his almost superhuman ability to make wild guesses that turn out to be correct. A couple of these were pretty ridiculous, in truth, and I felt they let the plotting down badly – with a little more work Gribble could have made these leaps a result of investigation rather than miraculous-level intuition. Otherwise, the plotting is pretty good, especially in the motivation, and on the whole I liked the characterisation although for the most part it’s not very in-depth. I debated whether it’s “fair-play” – in the introduction, Martin Edwards describes it that way – but I’m not wholly convinced. The explanation when it comes could have applied to several of the suspects – the vital piece of information that identifies the murderer wasn’t available to the reader. There are also odd plot holes, like people being married without their friends and colleagues knowing and people being engaged but no-one knowing to whom. Necessary for the plot to work, but unlikely…

Leonard Gribble

Overall then, I enjoyed this without being entirely convinced by the plotting. The evocative and well-written descriptions of attending a football match back in the days when it was a major weekly occasion in the lives of so much of working-class Britain – of doing the football “pools”, of trying to find out the results of rival matches once the game was over, of seventy thousand people all wending their way homewards very slowly on overcrowded buses and trains – entertained me far more than I anticipated, and I suspect would appeal even more to die-hard football fans (especially ones of a certain age). A walk down memory lane… and, as with so much vintage crime, fun as much for what it shows us about society as for the actual mystery element.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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TBR Thursday 183…

Episode 183

Another amazing drop in the TBR this week – down 2 to 222! I’ve finally got the thing under control! So long as no strangely-clad gentlemen pop round to visit, that is…

Here are a few more that should make me merry…

Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. My efforts to catch up on my little backlog of vintage crime novels continues with this one, which is apparently quite famous among football fans. Of whom I am not one…

The Blurb says: The 1939 Arsenal side is firing on all cylinders and celebrating a string of victories. They appear unstoppable, but the Trojans – a side of amateurs who are on a winning streak of their own – may be about to silence the Gunners. Moments into the second half the whistle blows, but not for a goal or penalty. One of the Trojans has collapsed on the pitch. By the end of the day, he is dead.

Gribble’s unique mystery, featuring the actual Arsenal squad of 1939, sends Inspector Anthony Slade into the world of professional football to investigate a case of deadly foul play on and off the pitch.

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Crime

Courtesy of Little, Brown Book Group via NetGalley. I loved Harper’s first book, The Dry, and was a little disappointed in her second, Force of Nature. So I have my fingers crossed that this one is a return to her excellent top form…

The Blurb says: Two brothers meet at the remote fence line separating their cattle farms under the relenting sun of the remote outback. In an isolated part of Western Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes three hours’ drive apart.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron, who lies dead at their feet.

Something had been on Cam’s mind. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

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Classic Adventure

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Another one from my Classics Club list. I loved reading a few of Burroughs’ Barsoom Chronicles a few years back, so I’m hoping he entertains me just as much with this one.

The Blurb says: A central figure in American popular culture, Tarzan first came swinging through the jungle in the pages of a pulp-fiction magazine in 1912, and subsequently appeared in the novel that went on to spawn numerous film, full-length cartoon, and theatrical adaptations.

The infant Tarzan, lost on the coast of West Africa, is adopted by an ape-mother and grows up to become a model of physical strength and natural prowess, and eventually leader of his tribe. When he encounters a group of white Europeans, and rescues Jane Porter from a marauding ape, he finds love, and must choose between the values of civilization and the jungle.

Jason Haslam’s engaging introduction situates the novel not only in the pulp fiction industry, but also against the backdrop of adventure stories, European exploration in Africa, and the debates over nature versus civilization.

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More Vintage Crime

Courtesy of Collins Crime Club. I hadn’t realised this one has a Christmas theme till I popped into Goodreads to copy the blurb – must try to fit it in before Santa gets here!

The Blurb says: The delight of Christmas shoppers at the unveiling of a London department store’s famous window display turns to horror when one of the mannequins is discovered to be a dead body…

Mander’s Department Store in London’s West End is so famous for its elaborate window displays that on Monday mornings crowds gather to watch the window blinds being raised on a new weekly display. On this particular Monday, just a few weeks before Christmas, the onlookers quickly realise that one of the figures is in fact a human corpse, placed among the wax mannequins. Then a second body is discovered, and this striking tableau begins a baffling and complex case for Inspector Devenish of Scotland Yard.

Vernon Loder’s first book The Mystery at Stowe had endeared him in 1928 as ‘one of the most promising recruits to the ranks of detective story writers’. Inspired by the glamour of the legendary Selfridges store on London’s Oxford Street, The Shop Window Murders followed, an entertaining and richly plotted example of the Golden Age deductive puzzle novel, one of his best mysteries for bafflement and ingenuity.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?