A young Englishman tries to solve his father’s mounting financial crisis with his poker skills in this novel.
Tommy Hitchcock’s dad, Alan, is in a heap of trouble. He’s a small-time fisherman whose boat has been impounded, and it’s going to cost him thousands of dollars in fines to retrieve it. He also owes money to loan sharks who are increasingly impatient with him. In an attempt to raise cash for his father, Tommy leaves the small town of Lowestoft, England, for London and lands a job at a department store, working in the fish department. There, he quickly makes friends with two students, Lilly Bookerman (in the books department) and Nick Monroe (in sports), the latter of whom acts as the narrator of this story. Nick comes up with an idea to start a “boat fund” to help Tommy’s dad, and the two friends plan to raise money for it by playing poker. Nick is a novice at the game, but Tommy’s unusually talented, as his father had previously tutored him in poker’s complex nuances. Lilly connects them with her wealthy, card-playing friends, and they quickly graduate to higher-stakes tournaments. As their pile of winnings gradually grows higher, Goodhart (Cards, Kafka and Prague, 2016) describes the games they play. But when Tommy’s victories embolden him to take dangerous risks, Nick becomes concerned. Meanwhile, Lilly is attracted to Tommy’s preternatural self-possession, and their nascent friendship blossoms into a romance. The author’s prose is punchy and clever, driven by sharp dialogue: “You’re the fish nibbling the bait if you’ve got an iffy hand…. Any little unusual movement and you’re gone; be suspicious, try not to get hooked.” Goodhart’s mastery of the machinations of poker is also extraordinary. However, there’s so much play-by-play—granular, complicated renderings of match after match—that the novel may not appeal to readers that don’t already have an abiding enthusiasm for the game. Also, readers may feel that Lilly’s sudden feelings for Tommy are too strong to be believable. Finally, the conclusion is abrupt and peculiar, as if the author simply ran out of steam.
A dramatically unsatisfying tale, aimed narrowly at poker aficionados.