They say every man has a weakness. They say that for every man there’s a woman somewhere in the world who can make him jump through fiery hoops just by snapping her fingers. They say a man’s lucky if he never meets that woman.
Bill Maynard is on the mend after a bad run of luck in Chicago. Bill’s a stage magician turned card mechanic, and a group of gamblers didn’t take too well to his cardsharp antics in a high-stakes poker game. Hungry for some action, he gets into a casual game at a friend-of-a-friend’s house via the dentist who’s repairing his teeth… but when his host’s wife offers him a deal, Bill bites off more than he can chew.
Joyce Rogers, professional hottie and femme fatale, wants out of her marriage. She also wants to take her husband Murray’s savings along with her. She sees right through Bill’s card tricks, and ropes him into a cunning plan to frame her husband. Murray gets Bill a real job, and the dentist sets him up on a blind date, and he gets second thoughts about the whole deal. Will he go through with the frame-job? Or will he find himself ensnared in honest living? Joyce and Murray have some tricks up their sleeve, and Bill will have to work the perfect bluff to pull this one off.
Perhaps my favorite style of crime novel is the cardsharp/gamblin’ story: Maverick; Rounders; Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Lawrence Block more than delivered on that front. It’s got a brisk pace and brilliant delivery; more importantly, it’s the best example of Block that I’ve read through Hard Case. A Diet of Treacle was a simplistic juvie-sleaze novel, and Killing Castro was well-rounded and topical, but Lucky at Cards is rave-worthy. There’s a lot of personality to Bill, with a bit of character development; the plot and pacing is also top-notch, and the poker scenes where Bill talks shop were pretty entertaining. The plot is reasonably complex, there’s a good deal of mystery/plot twists, and Bill is a likeable character.
Oh, it’s also got a lot of wild, raunchy sex. It was originally titled The Sex Shuffle by “Sheldon Lord;” that should tell you what you’re getting into. I’ve read about thirty Hard Case Crimes, and this one is the raunchiest (in the sex department). So far.
The cover plays into the novel’s sleaze-sex style. Chuck Pyle crafted one of the most eye-catching covers for Hard Case, and one of their best femme fatale shots. Perfectly retro with the cigarette and dress, with a posture that just oozes sensuality. The relevant quote describes Joyce “with hooker’s hips and queen-sized breasts and a belly that had just the right amount of bulge to it.” Looks like Chuck Pyle was spot on.
This is a quick, no-nonsense read. It’s short and fun and thrilling. The final showdown was compelling; the ending was completely unexpected, yet fit in wonderfully with the rest of the book. For a short little crime novel, Lucky at Cards does everything right, and I highly enjoyed it because of that. There’s a reason Lawrence Block is one of the most respected voices in crime fiction.