The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard Gribble

It’s 1939 and the indomitable Arsenal side (how times have changed, eh?) are taking on the Trojans, a team of amateurs who are also on a winning streak. But the beautiful game is about to turn ugly as minutes into the second half, one of the Trojans, Doyce, collapses on the pitch. Very soon he is pronounced dead, a victim of aconitine poisoning. But how was the poison administered?

Enter Inspector Anthony Slade of Scotland Yard. As his investigations reveal close links between Doyce and a selection of the Trojan players. It seems they have history beyond simply playing in the same team, all of it tying into the death of a girl a few years previously. Can Slade find the killer before anyone else pays the penalty?

I’m sorry, but I’m really tired – that’s the best football pun I can come up with. Maybe I should just  throw-in the towel and kick-off the review?

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is probably better known as a film but those nice folks at the British Library have made it one of their recent reissues. It has an important place in crime fiction history as it is one of the rare appearances of the beautiful game in a classic mystery. Horse racing and cricket have a fair few appearances but football, being the sport of the common man, probably didn’t overlap the experiences of a number of the writers. I wonder – was that why Leonard Gribble wasn’t a member of the Detection Club? Or maybe it was just because it was just one pseudonym of many who wrote on a range of subjects…

It’s an interesting book. After a page of signatures of the 1939 Arsenal squad – all of whom appear in the first chapter at least, which describes the pre-murder football match – we cut to the match details, again featuring the actual Arsenal squad and the fictional Trojans. Luckily, the victim and the suspects belong to the Trojans and their retinue, and luckily for non-football fans, the story moves away from the technicalities of the match and into more traditional mystery fare. There is a decent role in the story for George Allison, the manager of Arsenal, who also gets a dedication at the start.

Inspector Slade is a decent enough character, interesting without being desperately distinctive and the story ticks along nicely, enlivened by a number of suspects determined to pin suspicion on some of the other suspects.

The only issue really is that the murderer could have been anyone really – the murderer has to be trapped, rather than deduced and Slade does make one massive deductive leap/guess regarding the murder weapon at one point. Regardless though, this is a fun read and non-football fans shouldn’t be put off by the theme. And there’s not much Arsenal in there is you’re not a fan of the lesser North London club. Well Worth A Look.

Oh, and before I go, I’m afraid that I’m far too childish not to share this quote:

“There’s a chance that Doyce met his death by a prick of some sort.”

Sorry. I’m very sorry…

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