False Nine by Philip Kerr

Competition published on November 13, 2015.

Sports novels do not have a particularly good track record, if you’ll forgive the pun. From the early 1960s until his death, former National Hunt champion jockey Dick Francis wrote more than forty thrillers based on his first-hand experience of the turf. Another jockey, Johnny Francome, got in on the act some time later. Leading sports journalist Brian Glanville wrote plays, novels and screenplays about football but by and large the UK has not produced sports novels as good as their American counterparts Richard Ford, Frederick Exley and Chuck Walsh who have written sports novels that rose high above the pot-boiling threshold.

Philip Kerr (c) Joanna BettsIn the UK, another literary novelist, voted one of Granta’s 20 Best Young British Novelists in 1993, has recently taken to writing soccer novels with clued-in titles like False Nine and Hand Of God. Philip Kerr is, according to his publisher, “a lifelong Arsenal supporter” which qualification might lead readers to expect wonderful flowing prose without much punch in the final third but the results are surprisingly good and probably better than Arsenal’s. By a delicious irony, Hand of God features a London City team getting set to play Olympiacos in the Champion’s League. Greece is rioting and manager Scott Manson is keeping his team on a tight leash. There must be no drinking, no nightlife and no women. Even with these constraints it’s hard to envisage the real Arsenal making it out of their qualifying group this year; unless Arsène Wenger can conjure a death on the pitch as Kerr does.

The latest Scott Manson thriller set in the star-studded world of international football is False Nine. Arsenal fans will search in vain for a walk-on role for Theo Walcott but the novel does feature a player who “goes missing,” perhaps a reference to Per Mertesacker. This time around, manager Scott Manson feels he has to leave England. His career with London City is over, and it cuts deep to watch them play on without him. A new position in Shanghai turns out to be part of an elaborate sting operation. And in Barcelona, he’s hired not as a football manager, but as a detective. Barca’s star player is missing. Scott has a month to track him down. As he follows the trail from Paris to Antigua, he encounters corrupt men, wicked women, and the rotten core of the beautiful game.

All good rollicking topical stuff and Kerr is clearly a talented writer with his finger on the pulse. Is he an Arsenal fan of the AKB (Arsène Knows Best) persuasion or in the departure of Scott Manson can we read a subtle hint to Arsène Wenger to get on his vélo? Read this entertaining novel and find out.

Read an extract

Bert Wright, Editor – The Nudge List
Philip Kerr (c) Joanna Betts

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