Putting the Boot In,
Dan Kavanagh. Orion £14.99 Hardback.
Oh, what a joy. Thanks to those lovely people from Orion publishers I can wallow unashamedly in unqualified nostalgia. I don’t get much chance these days so you will just have to bear with me.
It must have been at the dying moments of the Shots in the Dark Convention in Nottingham (a much missed event) around 1992 that Ralph Lees presented me with a copy of Duffy with the promise that it would delight a QPR supporter. What he really meant, I suppose, was that it left him cold as a forlorn Barnsley supporter. Naturally, I duly read my first offering from Dan Kavanagh and, as Ralph had surmised, I enjoyed it enormously. What was there not to like? Almost as humorous as Mike Ripley’s Angel series, but with a private eye who was into QPR, drugs, and sexual liaisons with either sex, though not necessarily in that order.
At the time I didn’t have a clue as to the identity of Dan Kavanagh. The blurb on the cover gave little away, a tendency maintained to this day with the Orion editions. But within a few months I had obtained and enjoyed the other Duffy titles which concluded with Going to the Dogs, published in 1987. When a few of us frustrated crime fiction aficionados got round to publishing A Shot in the Dark (the forerunner of SHOTS) in the early 1990s, I was obviously smarting from Mr Kavanagh’s reluctance to extend the life of his engaging sleuth and decided to out him using evidence provided in John Conquest’s exhaustive listing of privates eyes in Trouble is Their Business. Dan Kavanagh was no less than Julian Barnes. Less unkindly, I did offer the promise that further adventures of Duffy would be warmly welcomed by that fledgling fanzine, unless of course Duffy had since become a Chelsea supporter. Yes, those were the days when crime fiction magazine could even entertain a degree of satire.
Putting the Boot In, was published originally in 1985. Patently, crime fiction and much else has changed in the intervening years. Though in footballing terms it’s a bit of plus ca change. Les Ferdinand had just made his debut at QPR and now he’s back at Loftus Road in a managerial role. It doesn’t happen now, but those were the days when the QPR fans welcomed Spurs fans with the ditty which prefaces the book (I guess Mike Stotter is too young to remember it, so just to annoy him and other Spurs supporters I will repeat it):
If I had the wings of a sparrow,
If I had the arse of a crow,
I’d fly over Tottenham tomorrow,
And shit on the bastards below.
Nearly thirty years on, have the Duffy books still got a valid shelf life, aside from offering a degree of nostalgia? On one level I think they have, if only because the nation’s favourite pastime has figured too marginally in crime fiction. The footballers’ agent Mel Stein had a reasonably successful series in the mid 90’s. Aside from that football has been largely ignored, though Philip Kerr seems set to correct that with his latest breaks from Bernie Gunther. But if there was ever a case for putting football back into the crime fiction focus it rests very firmly on the Duffy series.
Putting the Boot In sees Duffy trying to belie his age playing for the Reliables, a pub team, plying his skills on parks long neglected by financially-stretched local authorities (no change there then), and debating various ways to break the opposing forward’s leg. Apart from that Duffy lives in a flat in Acton, has his own private investigations firm, Duffy Security, a girl friend of five years’ standing, and an increasing anxiety about Aids due to his occasional tendency to play away. Much of his professional activities centre on football; having to deal with dodgy club owners and prima donna players who, even then, had more money than sense. All a bit familiar? In this episode Duffy has been approached by the owner of Athletic to investigate a number of problems. Firstly who has beaten up and badly injured one of his best young players? Secondly, why are local residents starting to complain to the police and press about the behaviour of supporters attending the Athletic’s home games? Thirdly, why has the Neo-Nazi, Red, White and Blue Movement started to infiltrate the Athletic’s supporters, and who is behind that movement? Finally, the owner wants Duffy to provide a bit of security for the club’s best player, who happens to be black, and is now being subjected to racial abuse by sections of the club’s supporters. All of which have resonance today.
There should be enough in that synopsis to demonstrate the relevance of Putting the Boot In to new generations of football supporters and crime fiction readers alike. Having re-read this book I am now embarking on the others in the series. In the thirty years that have passed I still find them as enjoyable as ever, and strongly commend them to the many football fans who peruse this website. Unless, that is Julian Barnes has decamped to Stamford Bridge in which case the books are all shite and should not be touched with a bargepole. Do I really mean that? A bit. But offer a big plaudit to Orion for bringing Duffy back into circulation.