PAUL GADSBY

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Category: Reviews

“An atmospheric depiction of 1960s London” – Chasing the Game review

Chasing the GameChasing the Game has been praised for generating “an atmospheric depiction of London in the 1960s” in its latest review.

My debut crime thriller, a fictional account of the real-life theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy from Westminster Central Hall in 1966, was reviewed by footballbookreviews.com, a website that delivers passionate coverage of original, thought-provoking and independent football-related literature in various forms.

The review adds to the overwhelmingly positive reception Chasing the Game has received since its release in 2014. A summary of how the novel has been received by literary critics, including media reviewers and established crime fiction bloggers, can be found here, while a round-up of what readers think of the book is available by clicking here.

The full review of Chasing the Game by footballbookreviews.com can be found here, but segments of it are below:

“In Chasing the Game Paul Gadsby provides a fictional account of the events around the robbery and the subsequent recovery of the trophy. As such the football element is only a minor thread in a book which is essentially a crime thriller.

“Gadsby provides an atmospheric depiction of London in the 1960s, where gangster Dale Blake is battling with discontentment amongst the ranks and an unhappy home life. The theft of the trophy and the hoped-for ransom money are seen by Dale as a way to sort out the problems he is encountering in his life.

“This is a read which is in parts gritty as it explores the murky world of gangsters, but which also has a softer side as it explores through the central character Dale a number of areas including family relationships, leadership, power and respect… Gadsby provides an entertaining and well-paced read in relation to a fictional exploration of the events in London before England’s finest footballing hour.”

Crime Fiction Lover the latest to praise Chasing the Game

Chasing the GameOne of Britain’s biggest crime fiction websites, Crime Fiction Lover, has followed in the footsteps of other leading media sources by awarding my debut novel Chasing the Game with an excellent review.

Led by a team of expert contributors and critics within the genre, Crime Fiction Lover is one of the most firmly established and well-respected websites around, covering news, reviews and features across a wide range of crime from atmospheric noir and thriller mysteries to hardboiled detectives and police procedurals.

Reviewer David Prestidge read Chasing the Game, my fictional depiction of the real-life theft of the World Cup trophy in London in 1966, and the full review can be found here.

Amongst his comments, David wrote that the story provides ‘a mixture of criminal incompetence, jealousy and black comedy, which presents itself as a plausible account of one of Britain’s greatest unsolved mysteries.’

He added: ‘This is a London where the smart boys smoke Dunhills because the slimline pack doesn’t spoil the cut of their suit jackets, a Mark II Ford Cortina could just about take a man’s breath away, and Michael Caine was doing something similar to young women with his screen portrayal of the amoral Alfie.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The prose is unpretentious, brisk, and will move the reader through the 200-odd pages with minimal effort. Gadsby has taken a real-life event that remains a mystery to this day, and provided a perfectly plausible, well-timed and entertaining fictional account.’

This write-up of Chasing the Game comes after further glowing reviews greeted the book’s release, not least from the highly-revered Crime Time website as well as critically acclaimed author Guy Portman and blogger ‘Book Addict Shaun’.

So far on Amazon, the book has attracted eight reviews; seven of them 5 star and one 4 star.

To read more about Chasing the Game and the true crime that influenced its narrative, please click here.

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Crime Time hails Chasing the Game

My debut novel Chasing the Game has received a glowing review from – among others – the highly-revered Crime Time website.

Just days after its release, the book was reviewed by Crime Time contributor Brian Greene and the full review can be read by clicking here.

Amongst his comments, Brian wrote: ‘There’s much to like about this, Gadsby’s first novel. The characters are believable, the storyline is compelling, and Gadsby excels at balancing the various subplots.

‘As you read along you’re just as intrigued to find out what will become of Blake’s personal life as you are to see what will go down with the firm and with the consequences of the trophy heist. The author never makes the mistake (too often seen in recently-written edgy crime novels) of toiling at making his characters come off as hard – he just shows them as they are and places them in interesting situations, and that’s enough to make you care.’

Crime Time previously ran as a popular magazine, running for 54 issues before reverting to a pure online source of crime news, features and reviews in 2008. Edited by Barry Forshaw, widely regarded as the UK’s leading expert on crime fiction having written many books on the subject, Crime Time is hugely popular and known for reviewing the best crime fiction in the UK and around the world.

Esteemed novelist James Sallis once said about Crime Time: ‘This is what the rest of the magazines want to be when they grow up.’

This review comes hot on the heels of the book’s hugely positive review by critically acclaimed author Guy Portman, which can be read in full here.

Amongst Guy’s comments, he wrote: ‘The story skilfully merges fiction and the real life events surrounding the actual theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966. This is a fast paced mystery with an atmospheric setting that succeeds in depositing the reader into the vibrant, rapidly changing London of the 1960s.

‘The reader is able to identify with protagonist, Dale, despite his criminality, due to his sympathetic nature and a problematic personal life that entails a declining relationship with wife Sheryl, a runaway teenage son, and a father in prison.

‘Chasing The Game is compelling, original and eminently readable, with an unpredictable plot. The book will appeal to all mystery and crime aficionados.’

Chasing the Game was also highly praised on the ‘Book Addict Shaun’ blog, which can be read in full here.

Amongst Shaun’s comments, he wrote: ‘The setting of 1960s London was felt throughout the book. The city was definitely brought to life here. And the book had a strong cast of believable characters. Yes it’s a book partly about football but you don’t need to be a massive football fan to enjoy the book. It’s also about friendships, relationships and internal conflicts within a firm and we all know how the real life ones usually turn out so the fictionalised one here was very enjoyable.

‘The writing in the book is incredibly strong too. It was also a very gripping read which once your start you won’t want to put it down. I’ve already had my dad asking me if I’ve read it yet as he wants to read it too. Overall a very enjoyable book, definitely something a bit different to what’s out there at the minute and a book I highly recommend. Will definitely be keeping an eye out for more from this author.’

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Review: Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night

Live By Night by Dennis LehaneSynopsis: Joe Coughlin is nineteen when he meets Emma Gould. A small-time thief in 1920s Boston, he is told to cuff her while his accomplices raid the casino she works for. But Joe falls in love with Emma – and his life changes for ever.

That meeting is the beginning of Joe’s journey to becoming one of the nation’s most feared and respected gangsters. It is a journey beset by violence, double-crossing, drama and pain. And it is a journey into the soul of prohibition-era America…

Review: Live By Night was an important book for Dennis Lehane. His tenth novel, written in 2012, it was both a follow-up (but not a direct sequel) to his 2008 epic The Given Day and penned around the time his TV writing career was really taking off. His work on HBO’s worldwide hit The Wire had earned him a call-up to the writing team of the highly-acclaimed Boardwalk Empire, another HBO success.

There were questions, from fans and critics alike, that Live By Night would therefore answer. Did Lehane still have the taste, and passion, for a powerful literary work? Did he still have the time to produce one? Would Live By Night (with its 1920s east coast gangster setting – the same backdrop as Boardwalk) be just a simple extension of the themes explored in that show?

Since making his commercial breakthrough in the early 1990s, hailed as part of a trio of new-age American crime writers with George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly, Lehane’s literary career has soared.

His first five books featured quirky detective duo Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro in modern-day Boston, but his next effort, Mystic River, catapulted him into the major leagues, the novel being turned into a film starring Sean Penn and directed by Clint Eastwood. Psychological thriller Shutter Island followed (also adapted into a film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese).

The Given Day was his first foray into historical fiction, exploring the 1919 Boston Police Strike and its dramatic aftermath, and my initial impression of Live By Night was that Lehane had once again successfully employed his gloriously muscular, confident prose that dominated his other books.

We’re thrust into the 1920s; prohibition is rife, opening the floodgates for bootleggers, gangsters and corrupt police to line their pockets. Police captain’s son Joe Coughlin, just 19, has a taste for living on the criminal side of the moral line, and an even bigger taste for Emma Gould, the girlfriend of veteran gangster Albert White. Joe and Emma begin an affair that is as clandestine as it is passionate, and it’s here, in the book’s early stages, where Lehane’s engrossing style leaps from the page.

The dialogue between Joe and Emma is as witty and sharp to draw comparisons with the Coen brothers’ script for Miller’s Crossing, while Lehane expertly paints a vivid picture of the age but never once allows the pace of the story to slip into second place. History is merely a backdrop; Lehane’s extensive research doesn’t blunt the sweeping narrative, allowing the evocative characters and the crisp dialogue to bring the book to life.

We don’t have to wait long for something to go wrong. Joe’s outlaw instincts draw him and a small gang into a bank robbery. But their escape plan is botched, and Joe is forced to go on the run from the police. He goes back for Emma in the hope of seeing them elope together, but this is tough, merciless noir and Joe’s plans – and more literally his beaten body – end up in the gutter before he’s arrested.

Serving a lengthy prison sentence, we experience Joe’s intense struggle for survival in a desperate, cut-throat environment. With Lehane’s skill, this is a haunting passage within the book and we’re totally convinced by the authenticity of rival mobbed-up inmates and their internal war, and Joe’s dilemma of which side to pick in order to survive.

But despite the prose being laced with Lehane’s usual stark, atmospheric edge, this section of the book for me slightly disappoints. The problem with widespread narratives that cover a large part of the main protagonist’s life (we’re living Joe’s epic journey from a cheeky 19-year-old to one of the USA’s most dominant and influential gangsters) is that, in crime fiction, these often encompass prison time. Joe is sentenced to five years and serves more than two, but the necessity to move on to his career after prison results in this stage of his life feeling a tad rushed. The format, to avoid the book ending up with an absurd word count, drives the narrative here.

Even though we get plenty of value in the relatively short prison sequence and experience Joe’s troubles and anguish close up, it doesn’t feel like we’ve lived over two long hard years behind bars with him by the time he gets out. To Joe, the bleak brutality of those years would have felt like half a lifetime. The structure of the book’s scope works against the author here, but Lehane isn’t the first crime writer to find it tough to effectively convey a long prison sentence on their main character within a small portion of a novel, however he comes closer than most to cracking it.

A pure delight we do get from this spell in Joe’s life, however, is the growing significance of his strained relationship with his father, Thomas. The book is written in the third person and we’re treated to some scenes from Thomas’s perspective. Complex father-son bonds are a particular strength of Lehane’s and here we get some real pearls of great writing. ‘Joseph was the most open of his sons. You could see his heart through the heaviest winter coat.’

Having been forced to link up with a dominant crime boss to survive prison, Joe is sent by the mob to Florida on his release to run the rum-smuggling syndicate they have going. He flourishes in his seniority, making the mob – and himself – a huge amount of money. He meets a girl too, a member of the Cuban émigré community whose world he immerses himself in, and his personal life begins to give him the inner equilibrium he perhaps deserves but, once again, this is noir – and heartbreak is never far away.

Live By Night fully merits its tour-de-force marketing tag. It’s another success for Lehane, earning virtuous distinction from his mounting TV work, and for us readers it’s another chance to enjoy his graceful, sassy prose set within a deeply moving novel.

My rating: 9/10

Note: This review first appeared as a guest book review on Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog 

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How ‘The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro’ was aided by the wonder of Joe McGinniss

The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro cover

The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro cover

American writer Joe McGinniss produced a highly acclaimed body of work, both fiction and non-fiction, before his death on 10 March 2014 at the age of 71.

He enjoyed an immediate commercial breakthrough with his debut release, The Selling of the President 1968, a powerful work that described the stage-managed, theatrical marketing of Richard Nixon in that year’s presidential campaign and landed on The New York Times bestseller list.

Many successful books followed, most notably his controversial true-crime book Fatal Vision, but the one that stood out for me was his wonderfully charming exploration of Italian football, The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro, published in 1999. Part travel memoir, part sporting analysis, part cultural discovery, it was, perhaps unintentionally at its outset, a project that covered a particularly wide literary scope. When I heard of McGinniss’ death earlier this week, this book was the first thing that sprang to mind.

McGinniss wasn’t a lifelong fan of the beautiful game (or ‘soccer’ as he’d have called it) by any means, falling in love with the sport at the 1994 World Cup, staged in his own country. He soon became obsessed with the cultural significance of the game in Italy, transfixed by the religious-like passion of the fans, their fierce devotion to their local village, town or city, and how their football team serves as a proud representation of that community and its values.

He read about something bizarre – miraculous even – that took place in Italy during the 1995-96 season. The team from the humble, rustic village of Castel Di Sangro had secured a highly unlikely promotion to Serie B, the country’s second division. A league normally the preserve of firmly established city-based teams or those clubs from large towns with financial (often industrial) backing, it was five divisions higher than Castel Di Sangro’s natural level. They were now punching above their weight to a degree that was as nearly comical as it was fascinating.

The talk ahead of the 1996-97 season was, therefore, whether this small (tiny in this context) provincial club could survive in the harsh, cold-blooded professionalism of Serie B. Could they avoid relegation and create a second miracle? McGinniss wanted to find out – and he wanted a front-row seat.

He packed his suitcase and headed for the Abruzzo region in central Italy, leaving his life in the States behind to spend the whole season in a rented apartment in the heart of Castel Di Sangro.

With the village having a population of just over 5,000, McGinniss placed himself at the centre of the community, embracing the warmth, fortitude and pride of the locals, who treated the players and coaching staff as family, and in turn McGinniss was welcomed by the villagers with open arms.

As his mission to closely follow the team through their tough series of matches (both home and away) progressed, McGinniss really bought into the emotion of Castel Di Sangro’s fight, their quest for ‘la salvezza’, enriching his deepening passion for the game in the process.

He learnt Italian and gained increasing access to the players and management staff, harnessing a greater understanding of their motivations and lives. Centre-back Davide Cei, for example, was studying The Great Gatsby and was especially concerned with learning the precise location of West Egg, while readers were treated to a stark impression of authoritarian head coach Osvaldo Jaconi, who banned his players from eating garlic and stubbornly only ever uttered one English phrase: ‘I bulldozer’.

It wasn’t long before McGinniss located a darker side to this fairytale. The club’s owner, Pietro Rezza, with his long cigars and lines of bodyguards, was a big player in the village and it was clear that the locals feared him and his shady reputation. In the book McGinniss claimed that Rezza, a compelling character who could have fitted seamlessly into any scene of the first couple of Godfather films, baulked at paying the team promised bonuses and refused to invest in buying quality players or building a stadium befitting their Serie B status, despite apparently having access to the required funds.

Life in the village got even more dramatic as the long, hard season intensified. Two young players died in a car accident that sent shockwaves and heartbreak throughout the village, and after having a cosy evening meal in the home of veteran player Gigi Prete and his alluring Chilean wife, McGinniss later learned of the pair’s arrest in connection with a cocaine smuggling ring.

Relations between McGinniss and the club became more strained, much of it caused by the author brazenly airing his thoughts on team selection and tactics in front of the club’s staff and the locals on a frequent basis. Rezza, a man who clearly valued his privacy, didn’t take kindly to the American writer sticking his nose in. He wasn’t alone, either. Jaconi and some of the players dropped hints to McGinniss (some more heavily than others) that he should back off.

It’s these passages of the book that picked up most of its criticism. Written from McGinniss’ perspective of course, and perhaps with a predominantly American audience in mind, his take on football and his understanding of the practical elements of the game didn’t come from a basis of spending a lifetime following it. Devoted long-time fans of the game can get immensely frustrated when they read a football-related text that’s written by someone who knows less about the sport than them. But for me McGinniss’ relatively untrained eye offered a fresh context to this book that seasoned fans or journalists couldn’t provide. Not every football literary work has to be penned by someone who’s lost count of how many long winter evenings they’ve endured freezing in the stands and whinging about the shoddy food and the ineffective use of the 4-2-3-1 formation.

The troubled relationship between McGinniss and the club reached an almighty climax as Castel Di Sangro played their final away match of the season down in the southern city of Bari. The hosts required a victory to reach Serie A. McGinniss, repeatedly advised to stay at home for this one, noticed a change in the players’ behaviour in the hours leading up to kick-off as they made the journey south. He overheard a poolside conversation between some of the players at a beachfront hotel that exposed a shocking and crooked element to the forthcoming match, and McGinniss couldn’t keep his cool. The bond of trust between McGinniss and the club, stretching throughout the season, snapped spectacularly, and could never recover.

The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro was written by a writer; not a football fan or journalist who wanted to write a book. It came out around a time when a glut of football-travel books were hitting the bookshelves, including two set in Italy; Greg Burke’s Parma: A Year in Serie A and A Season with Verona by Tim Parks. McGinniss’ book stood out from the crowd because he successfully framed an engaging narrative woven from what was happening around him; the politics, the passion, the corruption and the tragedy.

Maybe it wasn’t his place to claim he could pick a better starting eleven than the coach, and it’s understandable that some readers saw this behaviour as sanctimonious, but the book was never marketed as a tactical overview by an expert. Although structured chronologically (which makes the whole thing very readable), the skilled prose sucks you into the story. Rather than dwelling on the darker moments, McGinniss keeps the pace motoring along, always identifying with the team’s fight for survival throughout all the ordeals that confront the characters.

The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro goes way beyond football but, because all the lies, deception, scandal, heartbreak and joy are fundamentally linked to the team’s on-field objective, it succeeds in magnifying the game’s importance at the same time.

McGinniss wasn’t an expert on football tactics, or even decorum within a close-knit team setting, but he was an expert at writing. His shrewd style and the enthralling tale he fashioned made for a compelling book that, after reading it on its release, I have never forgotten.

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