Friday, 2 June 2017

Forgotten Book - The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

Football seldom features in Golden Age detective fiction. Hue and Cry by Bruce Hamilton, which features a football player who goes on the run after killing someone is a very rare exception. But in 1939, Leonard R. Gribble had the audacious idea of setting one of his Inspector Slade mysteries against the background of a real football club, one of the most famous in the world - Arsenal F.C.

Gribble was a writer with considerable commercial nous. He found support from the club, whose players and manager feature in the story, and The Arsenal Stadium Mystery was quickly filmed, by Thorold Dickinson, with Leslie Banks -at that time a very popular actor - playing the part of Slade. I watched and reviewed the film nearly nine years ago, and now the time has come to talk about the novel.

The setting, as the title makes clear, is Highbury (Arsenal only moved to the Emirates Stadium in recent times) and a match between Arsenal and a leading team of amateurs called The Trojans. During the game, one of the Trojans' players, a right-half (ah, those were the days) called Doyce, is taken ill and dies. It soon emerges that the cause of death is aconite poisoning. He has been murdered.

This is a highly readable fair play detective novel, and although I figured out the solution in good time, I enjoyed the story, not least as a reminder of how much the game has changed since the book was written. My copy is one of my most prized items in my personal collection - it was signed by the team and manager in 1942. One of those who signed, and who features in the story, is a player called Cliff Bastin, on whom my father - a useful amateur footballer in his day - modelled himself. I suspect he'd have been amused to learn that, even though I'm an avid Manchester City fan, I went to some lengths to track this copy down.

1 comment:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks for this Martin - got the movie but never come across the book actually.