Soccer Books

Book review: Keep Possession by Drew Leiden

Photo courtesy of Amazon

Disclosure: This book was provided to PSP free of charge by the author.

Sports fiction is a difficult section in any book store or library. For better or for worse Bath, PA native Matt Christopher owns that space with such “classics” as Soccer Halfback. Finding that book was probably the last time I had ventured into the sports fiction genre; the premise felt a little thin to even my elementary school sensibilities, and “halfback” was already a positional term that was falling out of favor 20 years ago. Pretty much all of those books still feel that way: dated, abstract, and a disappointing letdown compared to the actual drama of sports.

Keep Possession by Drew Leiden avoids that pitfall. It’s a soccer book that’s not actually about the game itself. The main action of the story takes place in a stadium, and all the characters and even the driving plotline are soaked in the culture and history of the game, but they never actually play the game itself. That’s a good thing. Instead of trying to make us feel a connection to a team that may or may not exist in real life, the book delivers as advertised and follows a well established path to being a page turning thriller.

Keep Possession also does an excellent job weaving actual history into the plot in ways that move the story forward. For example when the author recreates Vladimir Putin’s 2005 mugging of Robert Kraft it’s not just to highlight the absurdity of the event but it also gives us a view into the story’s protagonist and how he ticks. One of the central plot points of the book, the Jules Rimet Trophy, actually did exist, was stolen, and has never been recovered. It’s this detailed involvement with the history of soccer that makes the book particularly engaging for soccer fans, though the overall experience doesn’t require any remarkable prior experience or knowledge of the history described.

That isn’t to say the book is perfect. The premise is a little contrived; without giving anything away, it’s about an American with a British father who grows up a football hooligan in the UK. That British-American hooligan turns his life around after a stint in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, eventually becoming a White House staffer due to his skill at bribing people. He is coerced by his boss to work for the English Football Association securing incriminating evidence of corruption in an upcoming FIFA election. It’s a lot of moving parts, and even if you can keep them straight that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make sense.

But if you get lost in the absurdity of the plot you’re missing the point. Tom Clancy wrote 10 books about a CIA analyst-turned-action-hero-turned-president; they’re absurd, contrived, and occasionally delusional. They’re also entertaining, enjoyable, and wildly successful. So why can’t we have a book about a goon-turned-politico-turned-action hero? This story isn’t meant to be contemplated deeply, analyzing for symbolism and contemplated for what the author is trying to say about the human condition. Keep Possession is meant to be read with a willingness to be entertained, and if you’re able to do that it’s well worth the reasonable asking price.

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