Fifteen new stories show how poker can be—or lead to, or cover up—murder.
Most of the A-list authors turn in professional but uninspired work, like Michael Connelly’s efficient Harry Bosch procedural, Peter Robinson’s false poker-table alibi, Penzler favorite Joyce Carol Oates’s idyll aboard a speedboat to nowhere or John Lescroart’s dream of a poker game that leads a cop to his father’s killer. Those who aim higher come up with mixed results. A frazzled daughter finally confronts her gambling father in Laura Lippman’s sharp but slight anecdote. The schoolteacher inveigled into a poker game shows a shocking but unsatisfying side of Alexander McCall Smith. Christopher Coake’s showdown between a heavy-metal guitarist and a crazed World War II vet would have been punchier at half its length. Lorenzo Carcaterra slathers on the exposition before a clever ending that tells a new widower which of his poker buddies was seeing his wife. Walter Mosley develops a fascinating new character, a freelance bagman, but doesn’t give him much of a story. Meanwhile, Sam Hill (much poker, little crime), Eric Van Lustbader (a daughter’s revenge hijacked by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) and the prudently named Sue DeNymme (nasty doings in a collegiate secret society) are mostly bluffing.
The best hands are dealt by Parnell Hall (Stanley Hastings acting smarter than usual), Rupert Holmes (an ingenious twist on the poker-game alibi) and Jeffery Deaver (a poker reality show that’s most likely to pop up in future anthologies).