When Roger Federer hits a tennis ball, the resultant sound is different to any other player. It is deeper and more obviously correct. It is the sound of perfect timing, and it is the sign of the bona fide sporting genius.
The other contemporary athlete this applies to is Ronnie O’Sullivan. Some readers might raise an eyebrow at the use of the label ‘athlete’ in the previous sentence, but I think here it is accurate — the new Masters champion Mark Allen once revealed in a mid-session-ask-the-stars-time-filler that his least favourite food was ‘vegetables’ and his favourite ‘takeaways’, but Ronnie O’Sullivan ran 40-45 miles a week before a dodgy heel forced him to cut down. Ronnie is interested in Buddhism, and was the first celebrity to endorse Jeremy Corbyn at the general election. This possession of a hinterland sets him apart from the other geniuses, and its latest manifestation is his authorship of a crime novel called Framed.
Framed follows a snooker club owner in his early 20s called Frankie James, as he attempts to clear his brother, Jack, of the brutal murder of Susan Tilley. The James brothers are the sons of a now incarcerated East End gangster, very much of the old school, and the victim is the fiancée of the son of a rival gang leader.
Although it does flirt with it from time to time, the book on the whole avoids the nostalgic sentimentality that surrounds accounts of the Krays and the Richardsons, although its relationship with the underworld is complicated. This is understandable, given that O’Sullivan’s father was put away for 18 years on a murder charge when Ronnie was just 16. The moments in the novel where Frankie is recalling the good times before his own dad was put away are moving in their honesty and in their number.
Of course, O’Sullivan is primarily a snooker player, and there is a degree of what I will call stylistic naivety in Framed. The book opens with a slightly forced dating technique — “some new Mancunian band touted as the next big thing in Brit Pop” may as well have just been written “it was 1994” — and sometimes as the reader you wish he would’ve trusted you to go some of the way yourself, rather than spelling it out. These are however minor quibbles, and the book’s positives make it worth seeing through to the end. Like O’Sullivan the player, O’Sullivan the author likes to get on with things. Framed races along, and it contains moments that are genuinely funny, thrilling and shocking (although not all at once).
There is a clear autobiographical tone to Framed, to the point that it becomes nigh on impossible not to read Frankie’s mental commentaries in Ronnie’s voice. But Frankie’s largely snooker hall-based alcoholism, and the lack of an attempt on Ronnie’s behalf to be any more subtle about the identity of the real protagonist is part of its charm. What’s also fun is the casual name-drop of the author into the conversation of two sarcastic snooker players, which produces an unnerving effect not unlike when a real city is referred to in Kafka.
Overall, Framed might not be high art, but it is not without merit, and a fun old read for snooker fans and others alike.