Chasing the Game
By Paul Gadsby
Towards the end of Paul Gadsby’s Chasing the Game, one character remarks to another, ‘My old man always said never trust a bloke who doesn’t like football.’ Strangely, a similar level of scepticism is reserved for novels that do like football. Sport has rarely travelled well into the realm of fiction, David Peace’s The Damned United and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding being the notable exceptions. But at its core, the former is a Shakespearean tragedy, while the latter is a coming of age tale. In each case, the game itself plays out as little more than a plot device.
In this his debut novel, Gadsby isn’t looking to buck that trend. It may end with Bobby Moore and co. celebrating their 1966 World Cup victory, but Chasing the Game centres on the dealings of London’s criminal underworld. Full of period detail and moody violence, it’s much more Peaky Blinders than Roy of the Rovers. With his mentor dead and his father in prison, Dale Blake finds himself the new leader of one of London’s toughest firms. Under pressure to grow the business and show who’s boss, Dale agrees to an audacious plan – stealing the Jules Rimet trophy from Westminster’s Central Hall.
As he explains in the acknowledgements, Gadsby takes the undisputed facts about the infamous robbery and has some good old-fashioned fun. With the exception of Pickles the dog, all names are changed (FA Chairman Joe Mears becomes Clement Spears), and many characters are constructed from scratch, namely the gang members and their families. Multiple narrative perspectives are handled well, the pacing and plotting are strong, and the dialogue rings true. The prose won’t worry McEwan and Barnes too much, but that’s not the point. The pages turn, and the reader is drawn into the murk.
The occasional over-description aside, Chasing the Game is a well-crafted and entertaining novel. Despite its timely release for the buzz around Brazil, its readership should extend beyond the World Cup dreamers. Because if you’re in the market for historical crime fiction with a lot of heart, Gadsby’s your man, whether you like football or not.