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'Filled with murders, kidnappings, Bosnian warlords...' - Steve Bruce's bewildering murder-mystery novels
Irish writer Seamas O’Reilly guided us through Steve Bruce’s bizarre literary career on the latest edition of Behind the Lines.

THIS WEEK’S GUEST on Behind the Lines is Irish writer Séamas O’Reilly, who has recently published his bestselling memoir, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? 

Before he chronicled his own life, however, Séamas did a service to the literary canon by excavating the work of one Stephen R. Bruce, better known as the current and wildly unpopular manager of Newcastle United, Steve Bruce. 

  • The full conversation with Séamas is now available, so to get access to it along with the full 84-episode Behind the Lines archive, subscribe at And for a limited time, you can get €5 off an annual membership by using the promo code BTL. 

At the turn of the century, just as Bruce was wading into football management, he also wrote a bewildering trilogy of murder-mystery novels, titled Striker!, Sweeper! and Defender! in which a protagonist named Steve Barnes is dragged away from his day job in football manager to solve a murder case. 

Séamas’ reviews of the books went viral, and their rarity has since rocketed their value, to the point where they are now (almost) as sought-after as first-edition copies of Ulysses. (Seamas found the first book for £14, and copies are now selling for around £1500.)

“These books were written by Steve Bruce while he was manager of Huddersfield, though ‘written’ is going to need a few inverted commas”, says Séamas on Behind the Lines.

“They weren’t so much ghostwritten as written by seance. But the basic thrust is Steve Bruce wrote these murder-mysteries set in a fictional version of Huddersfield called Leddersford.

“They contain almost no football and what football is there is execrable. They are filled with murders, kidnappings, Bosnian warlords, concentration camp guards, the SAS, Mossad, at least one case of identity theft, and at least a murder or two in each book.

“They are complete doggerel, the text in every book is about the size of the Hollywood sign, they are pamphlet-size and every one of them ends with a football match that is over in four pages and always finishes 4-2. That must be the most exciting score.” 

The books include mildly adroit wordplay – “Shannon’s office was small. On his desk was a PC. A personal computer, not a police constable.” – lofty literary allusions – “‘A pair of star-crossed lovers’, I said to Julie. She looked surprised.’That sounds clever, Steve. You have a way with words.’ ‘Not me. Old Bill Shakespeare.’” – and lengthy and bewildering digressions to the point of product placement.

Take this description of a car chase in the first book in the series. 

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My car was in the place specially reserved for me as first team coach. I drive a Jaguar XJ8, 3.2, the sports version. It’s a very nice motor; 3.2 litre AJ-V8 all alloy engine. Classic colour interior theme, fluted leather seats, contrast colour keyed facia, figured walnut veneer. As good a motor as you can hope to drive. But not a car you’d choose when trying to follow a Ford saloon in a discreet manner…

“There’s another bit in the first book when he is being led up to the hills”, says Séamas. “One of his star players has been murdered and briefly the IRA are implicated in the murder.

“Two Irish characters march him up to the wetlands of a nearby, secluded part of countryside, and in the middle of that he gives this long, page-and-a-half thing about scrubs and drylands and the ancient topography of the place, and you’re reading it thinking, ‘This guy has a gun at his back!’

“It just screams word count.”

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