Oh joy, a book that combines football and crime fiction. A heady little concoction by Philip Kerr to delight me, and millions of other football supporters. But will that get it into the top-selling lists? For a start, aside from me, the Spurs supporter who promotes this website, and the Raith Rovers pairing of McDermid and Rankin how many of the crime fiction congregation are into football? Or, for that matter, are there many football fans likely to read crime fiction, especially the Chelsea fans that don’t usually get beyond the Daily Sports?
Despite those doubts I enjoyed Philip Kerr’s first venture into the world of Scott Manson, a football coach in the mantle of Arsene Wenger, manager of Kerr’s beloved Arsenal, though one also willing to cut up rough in order to get what he wants from the overpaid and undertalented individuals who populate club dressing rooms (and board rooms). That was January Window in which Manson adds private investigations to his role as assistant coach of London City and solves the question of who murdered Joao Zarco, his mentor and the club’s manager.
In this second book in the series, Manson has been appointed the club manager and has succeeded in getting London City into the European Champions Cup tournament where they face the Greek club Olympiacos and a visit to a recession ridden Athens. Now, just in case you are all thinking Philip Kerr is going to present you with something akin to a Roy of the Rovers adventure for those with wrinkles let me quickly disabuse you.
As one might expect of someone who for so long has treated us to the escapades of Bernie Gunther, against a sensitively drawn background of the Weimar republic and beyond, what we are offered with Hand of God is a sophisticated introduction to the politics of football, including the colleges of corruption and stupidity at FIFA and the football clubs, and the struggles of a contemporary Greece beset by austerity at the behest of the European Union Neo-Liberals and the corruption inherited from its own ruling class.
Normally, English football clubs would not need to worry themselves about such lofty issues when playing a European cup leg. But for Scott Manson and everyone else in the London City entourage this first leg turns out to be an unadulterated Greek tragedy, albeit one which starts with London City taking the lead with a spectacular goal from the club’s Russian midfielder, Bekin Develi. Minutes later the midfielder collapses on the pitch and all medical efforts to revive him fail. EUFA rules insist that, following a short break, the match must be resumed and London City end up losing 4-1.
Patently, the players and club officials want to get out of Athens at the earliest opportunity but realise they will have to co-operate with the efforts of the Greek police and judiciary in finding out how the player died. However, the situation worsens the morning after the match when the police also discover the body of a young woman in the sea near the hotel where London City have been staying. To make matters worse she has a key to the Russian midfielder’s hotel room.
So instead of getting the first plane out, they face an unspecified stay as an incompetent police force wait on striking pathologists and closed hospitals to tell them how the two victims died in the first place. Into the vacuum steps Scott Manson in his alternative guise as private investigator. Does he succeed, and if so what impact does his discoveries have on his own future as the manager of London City?
Please don’t be put off by the football context. It is one which makes for a very persuasive piece of crime fiction, and deserves to be enjoyed even by those who hate football (including Chelsea and Spurs supporters). I can’t wait until the autumn when, False Nine, Scott Manson’s third adventure hits the bookshops.