PAUL GADSBY

Welcome to the official website of the author Paul Gadsby

A pleasure to kick off festival fever

Bristol PlanetariumThis weekend I appeared at the opening night of the Festival of Football Ideas to talk about my new crime novel Chasing the Game.

The two-week event, held at the enchanting Bristol Planetarium (pictured) on the eve of the 2014 World Cup, is a celebration of how literature, art, film, music and comedy can connect with football.

My talk, within a section called ‘Altering the narrative’, was titled ‘Chasing the Game – A Creative Twist on the Theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy’.

I spoke about how I used aspects of the real-life theft of the Jules Rimet (World Cup) Trophy in London in 1966 and combined them with fictional elements to create Chasing the Game, a dramatic and gripping depiction of this famous crime that remains unsolved to this day.

The Festival, running each night until Saturday 14 June, will feature further talks and performances from artists, writers, poets, academics, musicians and comedians. Full details of all the exciting events are available at the Festival’s website here.

FOFI logoThe Festival is a not-for-profit event created and run by a group of volunteers for the love of football and art.

During my talk I also spoke about football’s link with literature in general, particularly books that have been bold enough to try and use football as a theme within a fictional narrative. The novels/novellas I discussed were:

The Damned United, by David Peace (2006)
Red or Dead, by David Peace (2013)
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, by Leonard R Gribble (1939)
The Thistle and the Grail, by Robin Jenkins (1954)
Shoot on Sight, by Michael Hardcastle (1967)
Goalkeepers Are Different, by Brian Glanville (1972)
How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The FA Cup, by JL Carr (1975)
A Book of Two Halves, edited by Nicholas Royle (1996)
Perfect Pitch series, edited by Simon Kuper (1997-99)
For Whom the Ball Rolls, by Ian Plenderleith (2001)
Heartland, by Anthony Cartwright (2009)

A review of my appearance on the Festival of Football Ideas official blog can be found here.

Chasing the Game is available now and can be ordered from the publisher Matador here, or on Amazon (paperback version) or ebook (just £1.99).

Thriller Books Journal interview me about Chasing the Game

The Thriller Books Journal have just interviewed me about my new crime thriller Chasing the Game.

During the interview I also talk about the ebooks v traditional books debate as well as how the genre of crime fiction is often the victim of unhelpful – and inaccurate – snobbery from the ‘literary elite’ within the publishing trade.

Click here to read the feature: ‘Interview with Paul Gadsby (author of Chasing the Game)’

Thriller Books Journal is a comprehensive and vibrant website dedicated to crime and thriller novels, featuring a wealth of reviews, interviews and updates on new releases. The site is run by Italian author and avid reader Giuseppe Pastore.

For more details about Chasing the Game and the real-life story that sparked the tale, please click here.

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Interviewed by ‘Crime Thriller Girl’

This week I was interviewed by ‘Crime Thriller Girl’ about my newly-released debut novel, Chasing the Game, and my writing style.

Crime Thriller Girl leads a double life. By day she’s a corporate suit, but by night (and early morning) she’s an aspiring author, avid reader, and book reviewer of all things crime thriller. She’s also working on an exciting debut novel, which we’ll no doubt hear more about soon.

Her popular blog provides crime fiction fans with an abundance of reviews, interviews and latest news, and a link to her interview of me about Chasing the Game can be found here.

For more details about Chasing the Game, a fictional take on the real-life theft of the World Cup trophy in London in 1966, please click here.

Here is a transcript of the interview. . .

Today I’m delighted to welcome Paul Gadsby to the CTG blog to talk about his new book – Chasing the Game. So, let’s get to it …

Chasing the Game is out now, and gathering rave reviews. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a crime thriller depicting one of the most fascinating real-life crimes in British history – the theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966. Three months before the football World Cup tournament was due to begin, the trophy, on display in Westminster Central Hall, was stolen in an audacious daylight raid with the back doors of the building forced open. No one actually saw the trophy being taken but a ransom demand was made a few days later to the Football Association (FA), who were desperate to save face and reclaim the trophy, and a rendezvous organised where the trophy would be exchanged for cash. But the exchange never happened, one man was arrested for demanding the ransom but was never connected to the actual theft, so the identity of the thieves remains a mystery. Bizarrely, the trophy was discovered under a bush in a suburban street in Norwood a week after the theft by a dog named Pickles, who subsequently became a national hero.
I wanted Chasing the Game to be very much a fictional novel before anything else (not a documentary-style review of the crime etc), so the make-up of the gang of thieves and their particular characters and motivations were all driven by my imagination and I had a blank canvas to work on there. I used elements of the real-life tale (the ransom demand, the exchange set-up) and created extra conflict by having my FA chairman as a steely character who is determined to recover from the global humiliation the theft caused him and his organisation, and hell-bent on making the criminals pay. I had a theory early on about how I believed the trophy ended up under that bush, and basically worked back from there to create a gripping story.

In Chasing the Game, a real-life event – the theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy (the football World Cup) in London in March 1966 – is integral to the story. What was it about this event that sparked your idea for the novel?
I was drawn in by the fact that the crime has so many unanswered questions to it. The actual theft appears to have been carried out with a fair degree of good planning and professional expertise, so it seems a group of people did it rather than someone alone snatching an opportunity. But then the trophy – their only asset in getting something out of their efforts – ends up under a hedge a week later. Something must have gone dramatically wrong between that group of people during those seven days, as the pressure mounted with the case attracting international publicity.
I’ve always been fascinated by the internal structure of organised criminal set-ups and the personality clashes that rise to the surface. I’d been toying with a theme for a crime novel about leadership – about how some people have the natural skillset to be an effective operations man in a number two role but not necessarily the abilities to handle the wider scale responsibilities that come with being number one – and thought it would be good fun to drop this theme into the midst of a dramatic story such as the 1966 theft.

How did you go about researching the time period and the real life events?
I’ve always been into 1960s-set gangster stuff such as the Krays and the Great Train Robbery, so I read a lot of books surrounding those characters and looked into the pressures they faced in their lives at that time; what kind of lifestyles they were living and what they were aspiring to. I also watched a number of television documentaries about everyday life in Britain in the 1960s (thank you BBC4 et al) because I was determined to make that period a character of its own in the book. I love the music of that era but have always felt the way the 1960s is often portrayed to people like me who were born after then (Swinging Sixties, everyone flocking to a vibrant Carnaby Street to spend a fortune on the latest fashions etc) is a little skewed from reality. I wanted people consumed with the grind of their jobs, their money problems, their marital problems, their parenting problems and so on – characters burdened by the harsh challenges that life always throws into people’s laps.
That’s where the ransom demand in Chasing the Game proved really handy as a motivation driver within the narrative. I deliberately placed my ‘firm’ of criminals in west London, a few miles away from the central Soho scene they ultimately want to get to and grab a stake in – and the ransom cash is their leg-up to this world, their ticket to a brighter future. The trophy theft is also a chance for my ageing, old-school FA chairman to hit back against the thieves he sees as a stark representation of an increasingly insurgent society, and leaves him questioning his place in the world.

Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?
Chasing the Game is my first novel to be published but I’d written a few before that and with each one the process was slightly different. With this one I had the end of the story in place first, and worked back from there, carefully mapping out the characters and the various conflicts they would face, then drawing up a detailed chapter breakdown before getting into the actual writing. With other books I delved into the writing a lot quicker – happy with the overall concept and where things would finish, I went for it, adopting the ‘car headlights in the dark’ approach (writing away knowing what is immediately in front of you as well as the end destination, but never seeing what is a little further down the road). This approach allows the detail of each chapter to develop more organically and is an enjoyable way to write, but is probably more suited to character-driven work rather than plot-driven material. Either method (and many more besides) is fine and can be successful as far as I’m concerned, as long as the writer has a burning passion to explore the themes they want to unravel, and has created mesmerising characters who have plenty at stake within a tension-riddled story.

Who are your favourite crime writers – which books and authors have inspired you?
I have tended to prefer standalone books rather than mass-volume serials; I love it where the writer has the freedom to take his main character down any dark alley and the reader really doesn’t know how bad things will get. With the serials, we always know the main character is going to be fine and any injuries sustained will not be too serious because they’ll be back in another adventure next summer. That said, although I’m no great fan of those formats, there have been some tremendous writers who have gone down that path and deserve every credit – Ian Fleming for one, while Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham are delightful writers and I’ve enjoyed many of their books. Ray Banks’ mini-series following PI Cal Innes was fantastic and wrapped up with great humility, while David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet inspired me to explore mixing fact with fiction.
I love noir classics as well as slick contemporary thrillers. Elmore Leonard’s ear for dialogue is, in my opinion, unmatched. James Crumley is a big hero of mine as are the likes of Ken Bruen, James Sallis, Patricia Highsmith, Jake Arnott, Graham Greene, Jim Thompson, Adrian McKinty and James Ellroy. Eddie Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce is a glorious standalone book and one of my all-time favourites, as is The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips.

And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
I have written the first draft of another novel, a tale about a recently-retired boxer who is forced into a life of crime by his former manager, and look forward to editing and polishing that soon. But in the meantime I’m enjoying promoting Chasing the Game – reviews from crime fiction sites have been fantastic so far, while I’ve been asked to speak about the book at this summer’s Festival of Football Ideas in Bristol, a literary-music-art-themed event, which I’m really looking forward to.

A huge thank you to Paul for allowing us to grill him! 

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Under the spotlight on Morgen Bailey’s site

I was this week’s author under the spotlight on Morgen Bailey’s all-embracing writing website.

Every week Morgen puts a different author under the microscope, and this time she asked me about my new book Chasing the Game, my writing career, and my view on all things literature.

I spoke about many issues including the self-publishing v traditional publishing debate, as well as the way crime fiction is often stigmatised and looked down upon within the industry by the so-called ‘literary elite’.

Click here to read the feature ‘Author spotlight – Paul Gadsby’

Morgen’s extensive website is a huge resource for writers, with a wealth of information and advice. As well as author spotlights and interviews, the site carries guest blogs, reviews, podcasts, competitions, tips, writing groups, writing exercises, exclusive flash & short fiction and poetry.

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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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Appearing at FOFI this summer

I have been invited to speak about my new novel Chasing the Game at this summer’s Festival of Football Ideas (FOFI) in Bristol.

The two-week event, held on the eve of the 2014 World Cup, is a celebration of how literature, art, film, music and comedy can connect with football.

FOFI logoThe Festival will run each night from Friday 30 May – Saturday 14 June and will feature talks and performances from artists, writers, poets, academics, musicians and comedians. Full details of all the exciting events are available at the Festival’s website here.

My talk, at 7pm on Saturday 31 May, is within a section called ‘Altering the narrative’ and is titled ‘Chasing the Game – A Creative Twist on the Theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy’.

Each evening will consist of two talks, split into two ‘halves’ of 45 minutes, with a half-time break – oranges are optional. Tickets for most events will be £5 and can be booked through the website from 25 April.

The Festival is a not-for-profit event created and run by a group of friends and volunteers for the love of football and art.

It will be held at The Planetarium based at the At-Bristol site. The event also has its own Twitter page, @Bristol_FOFI

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Interview on the ‘Crime Thriller Fella’ blog

Chasing the Game front cover

Chasing the Game front cover

I was interviewed by ‘Crime Thriller Fella’ this week about my new book Chasing the Game and my writing regime in general.

A link to the interview on the excellent Crime Thriller Fella website can be found here.

A transcript of the interview can also be found below.

Crime Thriller Fella writes screenplays and novels, and reviews crime movies, TV shows and books for his blog, as well as providing interviews and latest news.

For more details about Chasing the Game, a fictional take on the real-life theft of the World Cup trophy in London in 1966, please click here.

 

Here is the interview transcript. . .

We love writers with synchronicity. Paul Gadsby’s novel about the true-life disappearance of the World Cup trophy is released with the 2014 tournament just round the corner. Paul is a journalist and writer. Having worked in sports, news and trade journalism for 14 years, he’s the co-author of the seminal snooker book Masters of the Baize. Chasing The Game is his first crime novel, and you can buy it right here. Paul gives us the lowdown on an intriguing unsolved mystery – and, of course, his writing regime.

Chasing The Game is based on the true story of the disappearance of the World Cup trophy in 1966 – what happened?

It’s a fascinating story – one that has a dose of crime, shame, desperation and intrigue in roughly equal measures. The World Cup, or Jules Rimet Trophy as it was known, was on display in Westminster Central Hall in March 1966, three months before the World Cup tournament was due to begin. The stakes were high because the Football Association (FA) wanted the event to go very smoothly, it being the first – and so far only – time England have hosted the World Cup.

But one Sunday lunchtime the trophy was stolen from its display case. A few days later a ransom demand was made to the FA, and a note later delivered setting up a rendezvous where the trophy would be exchanged for the cash. But the plan fell apart, the switch never took place (despite coming tantalizingly close) and the thieves were never identified. The trophy, for reasons unknown, ended up under a bush in a London street where it was discovered by a dog named Pickles a week after the theft. Pickles briefly became a national hero, praised for sparing England’s blushes and saving the reputation of the World Cup tournament as a brand.

How closely is your novel based on true events?

Pretty closely in many ways, which is why I didn’t go into too much detail above! I always wanted this project to be a work of fiction, though, so certain elements – the nature of the theft in particular – were dramatised in order to drive the narrative. I kept certain characters such as the chairman of the FA (although I changed his name and created my own persona for him) while the gang of thieves was entirely down to my imagination. I’ve always felt the theft had an organised criminal element behind it, but not a large scale one, so it was fun creating a ‘firm’ who could carry out the raid but were under real pressure to collect the ransom because they desperately needed the cash.

Pickles is the only character that maintains his real-life name. In 1966 there was also a replica of the trophy made, commissioned by the FA but against FIFA’s wishes, and I exploit this conflict in the story. I’m a big fan of blending fact with fiction (David Peace and James Ellroy being the masters at this) and have always felt authors should be encouraged to use fiction as a vehicle to enhance intriguing factual narratives and sharpen the motivations of characters or historical figures.

What drew you to the story?

The curious nature of the theft, the bizarre discovery of the trophy, and the fact that the crime remains unsolved. Who were the gang of thieves? What went wrong between them to result in the trophy, worth a significant amount of money, ending up under a suburban hedge? I was surprised that no one had taken the Pickles story and done something exciting with it, so I thought I’d jump in there and weave my own narrative.

I also tied this in with a theme I’d been toying with basing a crime novel on for a while – leadership, and the pressures that come with fronting a criminal enterprise or firm. I’ve always been fascinated with the internal struggles and conflicts that crop up within a systemised criminal set-up, and seeing people try to take on the skillsets required to fill certain roles. So the tense and complex professional relationships that exist between members of the gang make up a central theme of the book.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I wish I had more of them! I write around a day job (I write copy for a marketing company) and am married with a three-year-old son, so my blocks of time for creative writing can be varied and unpredictable. On the occasions when I have a few hours to write, I begin by (and most writing guides advise against this) doing a light edit of what I’d written previously. I trained and worked in journalism for a few years and the editor in me just can’t resist, but I do enjoy ploughing on with a first draft knowing that the product behind me is a strong one.

Obviously the second draft stage is always an extensive one, but I don’t want a major re-structuring job at that point; I’d rather fix problems and enhance areas as I go along. I’m also a big fan of Stephen King’s theory of ‘write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open’ so I’m very much in my own head when unleashing a first draft, then liaising with friends and fellow writers for feedback on the second draft.

Chasing the Game is my first published novel but I wrote three crime thrillers before that; I’ve been writing seriously since about 2005 when I had a non-fiction book published and got the bug for writing full-length works.

Who are the authors you love, and why?

I adore Elmore Leonard’s dialogue, Adrian McKinty’s action sequences, Ken Bruen’s humour, the powerful prose of James Sallis, Jake Arnott’s deep characterisation, Patricia Highsmith’s ability to build drama, James Crumley’s sense of time and place and Graham Greene’s story structure. James Ellroy, David Peace and Don DeLillo do a glorious job of mixing fact with fiction while I also love Ian Fleming’s Bond books. As remarkable standout thrillers I really enjoyed Eddie Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce (which apparently inspired Tarantino to write Reservoir Dogs) and The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing? 

Probably the fact that it’s incredibly difficult – and increasingly rare – to make a full-time career out of it. At a recent writing event I had a chat with an established, award-winning author who’s terrifically talented but told me how many copies her last book had sold and how many other things she had to do in order to supplement her time to write, and I thought that was a shame. The less time an author has to write, the fewer chances we have to enjoy them.

On a technical point, I like writing a synopsis but find it bizarre, frustrating and amusing that every agent and publisher appears to have a different idea about what they want to see in one. It’s an area that takes subjectivity to a new level!

How do you deal with feedback?

I embrace it during the editing stages of my writing. An interesting point is what to do with all the feedback you collectively receive. I know some writers who literally change everything that is recommended from all sources, but the danger of this is that the focus of the manuscript can then fragment and before you know it you have several half-realised themes and sub-plots going on.

I don’t think an author should ever lose sight of the initial purpose they had at the onset of the project. I think it’s best to take all feedback on board, apply a great deal of it if necessary, but to always consider that this is your book and the reader has to be convinced that it has come from one soul.

As for feedback from the industry, rejections are a familiar tale and for me have always been tempered by the fact that you know thousands upon thousands of writers are going through the same thing. Many writers collect their rejection letters but I’ve never really gone in for that. Positive responses from the trade, meanwhile, are obviously fantastic; it’s great to spend time speaking with agents, publishers and authors, and when you’ve had your work praised by such people it comes as a relief as well as a joy.

Give me some advice about writing…

Tough one. Any advice given by writers is obviously going to be very personal to them, but I’d say the most valuable way to spend your time is to focus on both finding your own distinctive voice (there’s no better way to make an impression on your first page) while at the same time reading as much of other writers as you can. If you’re writing a full-length novel you need prose worming through your brain pretty much all the time. The passion to write can only be driven by the passion to read.

What’s next for you?

I’ve written a first draft of another crime novel, which I’d like to polish and edit in the near future. It has another sports link, and is about the physical and mental struggles of a recently retired boxer who gets dragged by his former manager into a murky world of crime and an underground bare-knuckle fighting circuit, while also struggling to deal with his Alzheimer’s-stricken father. It’s called When the Roar Fades.

Who’s going to win the World Cup this summer?

All World Cups previously held in South America have been won by a nation from that continent, and I can’t see that pattern changing. It’s hard to see past the hosts, Brazil, but Argentina could be handy. I think England might sneak through their tough group but I’d be surprised to see them go beyond the quarter-finals.

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World Cup trophy theft – new book revives the tale

Chasing the Game coverMy new crime thriller Chasing the Game – a groundbreaking fictional take on the real-life theft of the World Cup trophy in 1966 – has just been released.

The solid gold Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen from Westminster Central Hall three months before the tournament and famously discovered by a dog named Pickles in a London street a week later, wrapped in newspaper. But the circumstances behind the crime, and its perpetrators, remain unsolved to this day.

Chasing the Game brings this intriguing tale to life, weaving a set of vivid characters into the tale to create a gripping – and shocking – version of a story that still draws much speculation today.

For more details on the background behind the 1966 theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy and the plot of Chasing the Game, please click here.

The book enjoys a timely release in the build-up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, a country where the Jules Rimet Trophy was actually stolen again in 1983, and this time never recovered.

You can order Chasing the Game from the book’s publishers Matador as well as several leading retailers including Amazon, iconic independent bookseller Foyles and Waterstones.

The book is available as a paperback as well as an ebook in all major formats.

More updates about the book will be posted on this website and on my Twitter page, @PaulJGadsby

If you would like to order a review copy for your newspaper/magazine/website/blog, or discuss an interview with the author, please feel free to email pauljgadsby(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)uk

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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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Chasing the Game available to pre-order

Chasing the Game front cover

Chasing the Game front cover

The cover for my forthcoming crime thriller Chasing the Game has been released, and the book is now available to pre-order from many retail outlets.

Chasing the Game is the first fictional portrayal of one of England’s most enduring and fascinating crimes – the theft of the Jules Rimet (World Cup) Trophy in London in 1966.

The solid gold trophy was stolen from Westminster Central Hall three months before the tournament and famously discovered by a dog named Pickles in a London street a week later. But the circumstances behind the crime, and its perpetrators, remain unsolved to this day.

For more details on the background behind the real-life theft of the trophy and the plot of Chasing the Game, please click here.

The book will enjoy a timely release in the build-up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, a country where the Jules Rimet Trophy was actually stolen again in 1983, and this time never recovered.

You can pre-order Chasing the Game from the book’s publishers Matador, as well as the UK’s iconic independent bookseller Foyles and major retailer Waterstones, as well as Amazon, who you may have heard of.

The book will be available as a paperback as well as an ebook in all major formats, including Kindle and ePub.

More updates as we near publication will be posted on this website and on my Twitter page, @PaulJGadsby

If you would like to order a review copy for your newspaper/magazine/website/blog, or discuss an interview with the author, please feel free to email pauljgadsby(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)uk

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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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Coming soon – crime thriller ‘Chasing the Game’

Chasing the Game front cover

Chasing the Game front cover

Chasing the Game, my novel depicting the 1966 theft of the Jules Rimet (World Cup) Trophy in London, will be released very soon.

The book is the first fictional portrayal of this notorious true crime that rocked the Football Association and remains unsolved to this day. Centred within a merciless criminal underworld, Chasing the Game may be a work of fiction but there is one character who makes an appearance playing the same role he did in reality 48 years ago; Pickles the dog.

Publishers Matador are applying the final touches, and the book will enjoy a timely release in the build-up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

For more details on the background behind the real-life theft of the trophy and the plot of Chasing the Game, please click here.

The book will be available as a paperback via many sources including the Matador website and Amazon, and it will also come out as an ebook in all major formats, including Kindle and ePub.

More updates in the lead-up to publication will be posted on this website and on my Twitter page, @PaulJGadsby

If you would like to order a review copy for your newspaper/magazine/website/blog, or discuss an interview with the author, please feel free to email pauljgadsby(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)uk

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Chasing the Game entry now on Matador webshop

Details of my debut novel, Chasing the Game, are now available on the website of the book’s publisher, Matador.

Matador, an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd, was launched in 1999 and has been hailed as the publisher of choice for independent authors in several editions of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, as well as being recommended by The Writers’ Workshop, The Oxford Literary Consultancy, Cornerstones, Lovewriting.co.uk, Bubblecow and Addison & Cole.

The entry can be found in the Matador webshop here.

My description of the book can he found here.

Further news on the publication date and any other significant production updates will be posted here.

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When the Roar Fades – my second novel

“Adulation is stronger than a Class A drug,” (Barry McGuigan)

When the Roar Fades is Paul Gadsby’s second novel. A crime thriller dealing with themes of fame, ignominy, wounded pride and coveted recognition, it addresses the intense physical and mental struggle that many sports stars face after retirement.

It will be released soon; further updates will be made available on this website and @PaulJGadsby

Here is a little info about the plot. . .

Recently retired boxer Jackie Florence is missing the adrenalin rush of brutal combat and boisterous fans. There are no more bright lights or flashing cameras, just some driving and the ‘odd job’ for his shady old boxing manager, Max Taylor.

Max and his well-connected business partner, Stephen Hamilton, think they have just the plan to get Jackie back on his feet: make him the star of their underground bare-knuckle fighting circuit in south London. Jackie’s not keen, though, and takes on a surveillance task that Max offers him instead, only to land himself in the scope of a tenacious detective hunting a big murder charge.

Jackie also has his Alzheimer’s-stricken father to care for, and when the old man starts talking about euthanasia, Jackie feels his life spinning further out of control. As the stakes rise and the scars soar, Jackie hatches a desperate plan that throws him into his fiercest battle of all. . .

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Why I wrote Chasing the Game

A lot of people have been asking me about why I decided to choose the topic of the 1966 World Cup theft as the basis for my debut crime novel. Mixing fact with fiction can be a risky and challenging business of course, but basically two main things appealed to me:

1. I was surprised that there had never been a serious dramatisation/fictional depiction of this crime before. The theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy in March 1966 is, without doubt, one of Britain’s most enduring true-crime mysteries that remains unsolved to this day. Although the trophy was recovered (found in a London street by a dog named Pickles) in time for the famous tournament, the circumstances behind the theft and the criminals responsible have never been uncovered. The 60s London gangland culture/organised crime vibe has always interested me, from the dark, ambitious charm of the Great Train Robbery to the sinister but captivating Krays, so I thought there was ample scope to slot this kind of vintage (and not to mention violent) backdrop behind a thrilling portrayal of the mysterious trophy theft and a desperate chase for the ransom.

2. Always fascinated by organised crime, I’m particularly interested in the internal struggles and conflicts that crop up within a systematised criminal set-up. The Sopranos dissected this theme with delightful precision, and one episode in particular helped me pinpoint a major theme that influenced me to write a gangster crime novel. When Tony Soprano is hospitalised after being shot (by his Uncle as it goes), leading lieutenant Silvio Dante is handed the reins of Tony’s widespread criminal network. Silvio was a perfect lieutenant, enjoyed his major responsibility of managing the firm’s strip club, Bada Bing, and thrived in being a senior member of the gang. But being a trusted, resourceful number two with certain operational duties is a whole different game to being responsible for an entire empire, being the entrepreneur, the visionary, and the driving force behind the financial health of the whole firm, having the people skills and leadership qualities to settle all kind of disputes and make big decisions. And Silvio found, perhaps to his surprise, that he struggled to make those decisions and struggled to lead. The natural skillsets required in being a number one and a number two are vastly different, and are applicable in all walks of life from organised crime to the common workplace. Putting a character in that position, with circumstances forcing them from a number two role to number one, outside of their natural comfort zone and reflecting on how that impacts not just them but those around them, is an absorbing element of conflict and was therefore something I wanted to explore as a major theme in a novel.

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