Smart though uneven noirish confection from poet, nonfiction author, and novelist Di Prisco (Confessions of Brother Eli, not reviewed): a tale of two gamblers, one an ace at blackjack and too sharp for his own good, the other a loser who gets lucky—but both unlucky in love.
Dolly is a man with a dilemma: He owes a bunch of money to his bookie that he can’t repay, and has his face smashed as a way of reminding him that he must. On his way into hiding, Dolly stumbles across a manuscript given him years ago by Valentino Comfort, the most brilliant member of a team assembled to beat casino banks at blackjack. Dolly, who, as a member of the same team, suggested Val write the story, holes up with his part-time pit bull Ranger in his almost ex-wife’s house to read it, believing that he can sell Val’s work as his own, making a movie deal and a million in the bargain. But the story proves to be other than he remembers. For one thing, Dolly barely exists in it, except as the butt of everyone’s jokes. For another, Val writes too much about the action away from the blackjack tables, such as mysterious encounters with his father, the episode of another bookie’s mysterious murder (which Dolly knows more about than he cares to admit), and, above all, Val’s growing entanglement with The Teaser, the beautiful, mysterious creator of the device the team will use to beat the casinos. In fact, Val’s account turns into a love story, even after he finally turns to the team’s greatest caper: a successful assault on the Sun City casino in South Africa. But something in the way Val tells it finally lets Dolly know he’s holding a winner.
Red-hot at the start, but the story-within-a-story has a different pace and mood, and ultimately takes the upper hand—a change not entirely welcome.