The Chels Book Review – The Red Hand Gang by Walter Otton

Walter Otton’s debut novel, The Red Hand Gang, was published at the end of 2012 by Gate 17 Books to a flurry of excitement among Chelsea media circles. It’s fair to say it’s not your run-of-the-mill football book. In fact football is only part of the story.

The novel  starts with a journey on the Underground, and the motifs that will reappear throughout the book soon become apparent. To be totally honest, after the first chapter I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it or not. It’s a slow burner, but really starts to take off when a tube trip turns into joyous evocation of childhood memories and once the friends begin their walk along the River Thames.

The story is well structured – night literally follows day, with an occasional glance back to the past, and there are plenty of signposts to events that happen later on in the novel.

This is a book where despair is liberally leavened with hope. The poverty of inner-city estates and famine-hit Africa contrast vividly with the good works of The Red Hand Gang. The charity walk along the Thames from its source is a 21st century, beautifully bonkers, reverse version of Three Men in a Boat (readers may remember that Jerome K. Jerome and friends started in London and rowed up the Thames).

The narrator’s extraordinary dreams will leave you with mental images of familiar London landmarks that will never be the same again – the names Mudchute and Pudding Mill Lane will give you a warm glow in your heart forevermore. The themes of religion and redemption won’t be to everyone’s liking, but if you have even the slightest shred of faith they will strike a chord with you. In fact, some of the imagery left me in tears.

In an epilogue set ten years later, you are brought up to date with what the characters have been up to, and I’d love to read what happened in Munich.

The acid test of a book is whether you see yourself recommending it to your friends and family. The Red Hand Gang passes with flying colours.

And you can find out what makes SW6’s latest literary hot-shot tick next month, when we’ll be  having a chat with Walter Otton in the first of our new series of interviews,  ‘Natters With The Chels’.

For those of you at the Wigan game tomorrow, please don’t forget that the Chelsea Supporters Trust launch takes place in the CIU in Britannia Road at 5.45pm, with very special guest Kerry Dixon.

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