The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) by Leonard Gribble

Source: Review Copy (British Library)

I am definitely not someone who could be mistaken for a football fan. The world cup blissfully passed me by. Yet I was certainly intrigued to try this football themed mystery for several reasons. Firstly it is an unusual milieu and in Martin Edwards’ introduction I enjoyed learning that many real life people feature as characters within the story, namely several players from Arsenal and the manager at the time. There is even a photograph of the team’s signatures included at the beginning of the book. Secondly there is the nature of the central death of the book. After all it is not every day that you read a mystery novel in which a football players collapses on the pitch and has died by the end of the match. Furthermore the player died at a time when no one was close by him. Whilst ultimately this book is not an impossible crime novel, the how element of this story is certainly intriguing.

So as you’ve probably picked up on, the opening of the book starts with a football match between Arsenal and the Trojans, a successful amateur team and it is their star player, John Doyce who dies and not from natural causes. Foul play is quickly suspected. Inspector Slade from Scotland Yard called in, who soon comes to the conclusion that the killer must have come from within the Trojan team, with several motives rising to the surface. After all it does look a mite suspicious when the team includes a research chemist. Though one shouldn’t forget the hint of a past death and a mysteriously delivered package…

Overall Thoughts

100 pages in I thought I had this mystery sussed and was quietly feeling pleased with myself, yet I think you know what I am about to say next… Yep I got it wrong, very wrong and it’s fair to say that the real culprit was quite a surprise, well to me at any rate. There are some nice intricacies to the how of the case, though there is one big assumption made by Slade in this respect. However I’d say it is pretty forgivable and doesn’t mar the overall plot. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to a footballing mystery, so I was happily surprised to find that I enjoyed it very much. Gribble brings the setting, people and routines crisply alive, certainly showing how very different football was back in the 30s. You definitely don’t need to be a football fan to really like this book. Pacing and dialogue are also deftly done, especially the latter, as Slade has to interview the various suspects, who are invariably trying to bluff their way out of admitting the truth. I think these two factors, along with the characters strongly contribute to the narrative’s ability to hook and reel you in. The ending is by no means perfect, but I think Gribble ends on a powerful note.

Rating: 4.5/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): During a performance of any kind

17 comments

  1. I really ought to track this one down. I’ve seen (and have written online about) the movie version and, just to add interest for me, I knew Leonard Gribble back in the day through publishing some of his (much!) later books.

    I can’t now remember which came first, Gribble’s story for the movie screenplay or this novel — they both appeared in the same year. Several genuine Arsenal stars of the day appear in the movie, alongside the divine Greta Gynt. Like you, I have no great interest in football, but I enjoyed the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Given the personal connection, you should definitely review the book. Very entertaining story as well which always helps. Not seen the film but can see it being good for adaptation purposes.

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  2. Glad you liked this one, Kate. I’m a lifelong passionate football fan, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy it, but it’s good to get the perspective of someone who isn’t so keen on ‘the beautiful game’!

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    • I think the story works for non-fans as well because the plot is not drowned in football technicalities and after the initial scene focuses much more on the people. Is this the earliest example of the football milieu in mystery fiction or are there earlier examples?

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      • There is another mystery novel involving football published in the same year 1939: The Football Pool Murders (aka The Coupon Crimes) by Gerald Verner. It is difficult to say which of the two books was published first.
        The earliest crime novel involving football is, I believe, McPhee, A Football Story by Sydney Horler (1923). However, it is more of a trhriller than a mystery.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Glad it worked well for you even though you are not a football fan. I am hoping to read it myself next week so it sounds like I have a treat in store! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the review, which I was anticipating quite keenly as I had recently purchased the novel off my local Kindle store. Like you I’m by no means a passionate football fan, and so I was wondering if this might turn out to be a somewhat tedious novel that concentrated more on the intricacies of football than on constructing a clever puzzle. 😞 Glad to hear that it’s a strong mystery novel – thanks for the recommendation! 😁

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  5. Just like JFW, I was afraid this would be little more than a novelty item, but, if the plot stands up, I’ll definitely add to my wish list. So thanks for the recommendation!

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  6. Thank you for all your reviews. Gribble revised this book in 1950 (Jenkins). Perhaps to update the football element? Perhaps Edwards mentions this in his introduction.

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