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  • Writer's pictureIan Ayris

CHASING THE GAME by Paul Gadsby - a review

The Blurb

London, Spring 1966. England’s Football Association is preparing to host the World Cup but it is about to be shocked - and shamed - by the audacious daylight robbery of the Jules Rimet Trophy. And lives and reputations are about to be torn apart . . .

A west London racketeering firm with high ambitions and even bigger internal conflicts is behind the crime. Troubled gangster Dale Blake, the raid’s chief architect, is hoping the hefty ransom can boost his personal income and professional reputation, but his erratic wife, a volatile colleague and a furious FA chairman all get to have their say in the turbulent aftermath.

Throw into the mix a secret replica of the trophy and a curious dog named Pickles, and this mess is about to get a whole lot more complicated . . .

The Opening

They both knew something was wrong as soon as the pub doors swung shut behind them.

Dale Blake felt the eyes of his boss, Tommy Glover, on him right away. Tommy flashed him a stern look, then twitched his chin at the barman

'So who's this clown?'

Dale shrugged, trying to keep it light. 'Bill must be sick. Or a night off maybe.'

Dale looked around the spacious saloon-style bar. A group of three men wearing flat caps were huddled around a table at the far end of the room to the right, nursing pints of dark ale, shrouded in an after-work haze. One of them caught Dale's eye. The man gave him a bashful nod, wouldn't allow his gaze to linger on Tommy. He lowered his head, whispered something to his mates. Shoulders tensed all round.

The Review

Chasing the Game centres around the real life theft of the World Cup trophy prior to the 1966 tournament - held in England for the first time. The details of the theft and its perpetrators, as Gadsby explains in his notes at the end of the book, remain a mystery to this day. The novel, then, is Gadsby’s fictionalised interpretation of what might have happened, using the skeletal factual details available. And with this, Gadsby does a terrific job.

We start with a London gangster firm in crisis, a lack of leadership, a lack of purpose and a grab for power from one of their more deranged members. What the firm needs in this transitional time is to make a statement, a signal to rival firms that they are very much still in business. A high profile statement. Something that will give them a bit of breathing space while they sort out their internal strife.

It is 1966. In just a few months, the eyes of the world will be on England - London in particular - the host city of the World Cup Final itself. So, what about stealing the World Cup trophy? That’s about as high profile as it gets. Surely.

Stealing the World Cup trophy? But that is sheer madness. It’s in a glass case in a public building, eyes on it twenty-four hours a day. Impossible.But it’s still worth checking out, isn’t it?

And they do.

The rest, as they say, is history.

This book, however, is so much more than just a heist story. The gangster elements of the story, and the heist itself, are brilliantly written. Pulsating prose rocketing the tension through the roof. But as in all truly excellent novels, it is the relationships between the characters that separate them from the pack. The central protagonist, Dale Blake, has a father, whose expectations he has never quite been able to live up to, in prison, a wife who is no longer prepared to tolerate Dale’s gangland lifestyle and blames him for their teenage son running away, said teenage son who hates his guts, plus the those in his own firm who don’t think he is a worthy successor to his father. All of this could be a little cliched in the hands of a lesser author. But it isn’t. Everything feels so real. Then there is the enraged chairman of the FA and his relationship with both Dale and the policeman in charge of investigating the disappearance of the trophy. The emotional depth Gadsby reaches is so admirable.

As the competition nears its close, the ransom deal is set and the handover arranged. Four of the central characters come together for the first time - each unsure of the others motivation. So skilful has Gadsby set this up that the reader has no real idea how things will turn out either - placing reader and characters in exactly the same emotional space.

And that, that is great writing.

And the twist at the end - blimey.

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