Read International Crime Fiction, World Cup fans by Matt Rees

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World Cup fans, don’t fear hours of emptiness. Take up a work by an international crime fiction author. It’s the perfect replacement for your lost fix – and it’s a lot better for your soul, too.

Here’s why. As the World Cup unfolded over the last month, newspapers all over the globe were filled with articles in which journalists extrapolated from aspects of the play and team-make up of various countries to draw lessons about the politics and sociology of those same nations.

Thus we learned that the Germans were successful not because their coach is a very smart tactician, but because they were multiethnic. We found that England’s loss was rooted in the shameless cash-fest of their football league, rather than the coach’s inability to counter German tactics and the evidence that the team’s players (who’re also pretty multiethnic) are simply a notch dumber than those of many other countries. Finally we thrilled to discover that there’s hope for the future of Spain, even if the country’s high court ruled this week that Catalans can’t refer to themselves as a “nation.” There were Catalans on the team that won in the final, the newspaper wrote, and so everything in Espana is /chévere/ (as the Spanish say when they’re feeling good) after all.

Naturally all this is the result of feeble journalistic maneuvering and the need to come up with enough “theme” stories to keep editors from questioning the expense of sending a reporter to South Africa to write about things which are free on everybody’s television set.

The popularity of international crime fiction, however, has been in its ability to provide a window into a society in an entertaining format. Like football. Only real (even if it is fiction.)

The strangeness of World Cup journalism is evident in the piece written by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen about the breakdown of the French team (which refused to train because the players, who cheated their way to the finals according to the Irish, decided the coach was a bum.) Cohen wrote that he had never had to repress such rage at a press conference as he did at the one given by the French coach. A few weeks previously, Cohen had been in the Middle East, where surely things ought to get one raging just a little more than a bust up between millionaire sportsmen. But it was the football that brought out the beast in him.

There you have the root of it. A situation of utter meaninglessness – a statement by the coach of a team that’s on its way out of a tournament that, in essence, is pretty meaningless even to the winners a few days after the final is played – riles up a journalist more than a conflict in which violence and suffering continue every day.

Maybe the French coach should’ve said, “hey, nobody died.”

But there’s something about sport which suggests dieing. People like the gladiatorial aspect of it, the sense that defeat represents something almost geopolitical. Sport, after all, is merely our way of practicing for the day when we all have to start really killing each other in earnest.

Which is why people ought to fill the post-World Cup gap left by sports journalistic hype and televised hours of dull build-up play in the midfield with crime fiction set in foreign locations. Crime fiction gives you life as lived by others, usually in extreme circumstances (after all, murder may be the only thing more extreme than the emotions experienced by a sports fan as he watches his national team scream at the referee.)

For example, if you read the mysteries of Manuel Vazquez Montalban, they’ll demonstrate all the cleverness of his fellow Barcelona boys Xavi and Iniesta in the Spanish midfield. And they’ll be a lot more edifying than the second-rate football you might have to watch until the World Cup comes back in four years.

**A footnote: a reader commented on one of my blog posts that it was missing my usual reference to “my Palestinian crime novels.” He complained that this denied him his “bingo” moment, as he evidently only reads my blog to spot my instances of self-promotion. This footnote is merely to point out that before I wrote MY PALESTINIAN CRIME NOVELS I was in Gaza once to write about the entry of Palestine into the Fifa world of soccer nations. I didn’t include this in MY PALESTINIAN CRIME NOVELS yet, though I do have an idea for a villain based on the national team’s goalie, who was nicknamed The Fly and whom I believe would make an excellent cat-burgler for one of MY PALESTINIAN CRIME NOVELS. I end it here, saying to reader “Dai Laffin,” count the references, there are three, “Dearie Me,” “Cup o’tea,” “Monkey on a tree.”

***A final footnote: apologies to anyone whose grandma never took them to a bingo hall and therefore doesn’t know why I wrote “Dearie me,” etc. They rhyme with “three” and it spices up the game when the bingo caller doesn’t just read off a list of numbers…Well, it spices it up a bit.

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