For some reason, there is a lack of quality fictional literature centered around soccer. As the top 20 soccer books list shows, the overwhelming majority of the best soccer books are nonfiction, and even the best one (The Damned United, don’t @ me) is heavily reliant on an actual event. As the World Soccer Talk Podcast shows, that extends to films and TV shows as well.
Keep Possession: A World Cup Fictional Thriller by Drew Leiden attempts to elevate the soccer fictional genre to a new level. Rather than focus the action on the pitch, he makes world soccer (specifically FIFA and the World Cup) characters in a geopolitical drama. Instead of writing a soccer book, he writes a drama that you would find among other reads in an airport bookstore.
Our main character is Jack McDonald, a former hooligan who ends up working in the White House (yes that one). Via a few high profile screw ups that end up not being what they seem, Jack is assigned to work on an undercover mission to help recover the Jules Rimet trophy. A fictional Middle Eastern country won the rights to the World Cup, but when their corruption is uncovered, the bid is reopened. The U.S. and U.K. governments think that the Middle Eastern country will use the Jules Rimet trophy – stolen decades ago but somehow secretly recovered – to bribe a key FIFA delegation to help them re-win the bid. Jack goes undercover as an aide to the English FA President, where he reunites with a former lover and gets much deeper into a global conspiracy than he ever thought. The narrative splits between the modern day and specific events throughout soccer history.
While I said the book is more a thriller than soccer fiction, Leiden tries to educate the reader about soccer history. His historical soccer cutaways are the best parts of the book, and they illustrate otherwise dry history by animating the key characters. I would read an entire book of fictional accounts of World Cup moments by Leiden.
The main story however is a bit lacking. The plot is definitely what I’d consider a beach read – highly unrealistic, exaggerated action, predictable plot, but still engaging enough to leave the reader wanting to read more. Where the book really fails is the dialogue. To make it more of a soccer book, Leiden inserts explanatory dialogue throughout the book on soccer topics or history. It leads to long monologues by characters explaining their actions because of some historical event or soccer phrase that the characters, for the most part, would know already. In addition, the ending takes a few leaps that, again, only work in a beach read but fail to stand up to closer examination.
There are some excellent passages in this book, but overall this is the type of book you’d read on vacation or when you want a mindless escape. During a time of enforced social distancing, there is a certain value to this book. I’d welcome a second book from Leiden that builds on some of the finer qualities of this effort.
Keep Possession: A World Cup Fictional Thriller is available via Amazon and all fine booksellers.
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