Hand Of God (A Scott Manson Thriller) by Philip Kerr

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Reviewed by Linda Boa

This isn’t a Bernie Gunther book, nor is it a standalone. It’s a new thriller series by Philip Kerr about a man called Scott Manson, who at the beginning of this book – the second in the series – is manager of London City FC. Kerr mentions he’s an Arsenal fan, and this book, for a football fan, must’ve been a dream to write, especially when you consider the access he would get…just imagine the gossip…

He certainly (according to my obsessive OH) knows his football. We’ve had thriller series and standalones set in the world of sport before – most notably, to my mind, Dick Francis’ racing thrillers, which continue to be written after Dick’s death by his son Felix. A successful franchise indeed. So how does Philip Kerr measure up?

Very well, actually. When you have an industry with so much glamour, money, sex, and eccentricity, it’s a wonder no-one’s tried to capture it in a novel for the adult market (it’ll probably attract mostly men who enjoy football, obviously, but you don’t need a massive knowledge of football, so really it’s for anyone who enjoys a good, fast-paced, international thriller.)

Scott Manson, who tells the story in the first person, isn’t (much of) a womanizer, unlike Bernie – his girlfriend, Louise Considine not only looks like a model, but she’s also a Detective Inspector with the Met. This can be handy for bouncing investigative ideas around, and giving him some kudos as a serious investigator when he’s dealing with officialdom.

After being drawn against Olympiacos in the Champion’s League, a Greek team with notoriously “high-spirited” supporters (like most Greek and Turkish clubs), London City FC embark on a pre-season tour of Russia that is nothing short of disastrous. In St Petersburg they are met by Prometheus, the new Nigerian wunderkind, who was bought over Scott’s head, much to his irritation. (He reminded me of a Mario Balotelli-type – a ton of talent, but even more ego.) He immediately rubs much of the team up the wrong way with his homophobic attitude (one of the players is gay; it’s an open secret.) Then, while celebrating a goal, a player makes a handsign which means nothing to many present, but is in fact a symbol showing support for a banned organisation. He is arrested and deported. A Russian player denounces his homeland as a police state, run by Putin as though he were “tsar”. Only some fast-talking by the club prevents him joining his teammate on the flight home – that, and probably the fact that he’s a national hero to Russian football fans.

It’s when they arrive in Greece that disaster really strikes, after a poor start to the domestic season. Scott had visited the country with a German team on a scouting mission, so he was the only one anticipating how horrendous the heat was. So when Bekim Develi collapses, five minutes into the game and just after scoring, the first presumption is it’s heatstroke, then that he may have had an undiagnosed heart problem. He’s whisked off to hospital, but doesn’t make it, and the players have to decide whether to play on, or play the match on the next available date, according to UEFA rules – the next day.

I won’t tell you how that match ends, but things deteriorate when the Greek police detain the team while they investigate both Develi’s death, and that of a young woman he had spent time with the night before the game. And with both doctors and courts on strike because they haven’t been paid, who knows how long they are likely to be delayed? So London City FC are stuck in Greece for the foreseeable future, meaning there’s a good likelihood they’ll miss their weekend match against Chelsea – at least! Plans are rapidly made for them to play their “home” tie the following week at the Panathinaikos ground, their opponents’ arch enemies.

Still, it gives Scott the opportunity to do what he does best – apart from managing football teams – and investigate all he can find out about his player’s death, and the girl’s, and whether they are related. But there are powerful people behind the scenes who don’t want Scott digging too deep…

As you’d expect from Philip Kerr, it’s a slick, stylish “PI”-type thriller, with plenty of wit (and quite a bit of swearing and sex – so if you’re thinking of buying it for a reluctant teenage reader, please consider that. That reason aside, it may just cure a teenager who struggles to find books that interest him or her.) It’ll certainly please any football fans out there who also enjoy reading fiction. Philip Kerr continues to write hugely enjoyable books – and lots of them! I enjoyed this so much I went back and bought the first in the series, January Window, but this book can equally be enjoyed as a standalone. I really enjoyed it, and would highly recommend it.

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Linda Boa blogs as crimeworm

Philip Kerr, Hand Of God (Head of Zeus, 2015) 978-1784081577, 400pp., hardback.

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