FORGOTTEN BOOKS: RED CARD!
With most of the world still glued to the World Cup games continuing in South Africa (go USA / go England), I pulled another fictional World Cup thriller off of my shelves as this week’s Forgotten book entry. Unlike last week’s The World Cup Murder, which got just about everything soccer related wrong, this week’s entry does a much better job.
Author Richard Hoyt jumped into the ‘80s private eye renaissance with a series of books featuring a disgraced reporter named John Denson. This were well received, but had more of a cult following than a wide-spread audience. Hoyt, who had served as U.S. army counterintelligence agent, then brought his writing talents to bear on a new character, James Burlane, an ex-CIA spook turned private operative. Burlane would appear in eight novels before Hoyt , who travelled extensively in Europe, Latin America, and Asia – riding trains across the Soviet Union and riverboats down the Amazon – began writing stand alone thrillers.
Hoyt’s timing was right for a book with a soccer background (the sixth to feature James Burlane). Published in 1994, when the U.S.A. actually hosted the World Cup, Red Card was actually subtitled A Novel Of World Cup 1994. And while the soccer background still plays second fiddle to the novel’s thriller plot, Hoyt gets most of it right.
Millions watch breathlessly as the World Cup, soccer’s premier tournament and the largest single-sport event in the world, opens to a triumphant reception in cities throughout the United States. Some players will go home as champions, others in ignominious defeat.
And some will not return at all.
It all begins when Elizabeth Gunderson – the international Foot ball Federation’s tough, attractive security chief – hand delivers a package to German team manager Jens Steiner. Inside the envelope, Steiner finds one red card and two yellow cards. A few hours later, two of the team’s hottest players are gunned down right outside the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. With a stat, Gunderson and Steiner realize the significance of the mysterious package: in soccer, the referee displays a red card or two yellow cards to call a flagrant, dangerous foul – then ejects the offending player from the match. Ejected players cannot be replaced. Neither can dead ones.
James Burlane, ex-CIA agent, now private operative and soccer aficionado, is hired by the Football Federation to investigate the murders and save the World Cup. Burlane follows a confusing trail of threats deceptive evidence to an unlikely set of suspects: a vengeful Argentinean industrialist and his beautiful soap-opera girlfriend, a disgruntled player turned referee, and an infamous news rag magnate. Burlane and Gunderson team up to unravel a tangled web of greed and sexual deception, while the killer – acting on his own bizarre agenda – strikes again and again.
Set against the spectacle and emotion of the world’s most popular sport, Red Card turns the first U.S.-hosted World Cup into a brilliant, international thriller and the ultimate soccer novel; fast, complex, and truly engrossing.
While I enjoyed Hoyt’s early John Denson novels more than his later thrillers (I just can’t get worked up about world domination anymore), Red Card is my favorite of his John Burlane tales.
Next week I’ll bring to the blog two of the best non-fiction books about soccer – one that will fill you with the joy of the sport, and one that will break your heart . . .