In his third book for children, Salassi brings us another wildly original tale, spot-lighting his talent for off-center characterization and plotting. Set in the 1940's, this is structured as a series of letters written from jail. Dumas Monk pleads for mercy after being tried and convicted of a series of charges resulting from his arrest, gun in hand, the sole survivor of a gunfight that has killed seven. In a humorous, mildly raunchy style, Dumas describes a childhood in a badly run orphanage; near slavery in a foster home; and meeting Jimmy D., a mysteriously ruthless character, who introduces him to the world of pool halls. When Dumas proves talented, they take off to travel the Southwest with a hypnotist, making money on the side as pool hustlers. After Jimmy D. abandons him at Hot Springs, Arkansas, Dumas hooks up with a card shark, Sidewinder, an old man who decides to train Dumas in his trade with a strange goal in mind. It is this goal, a product of Sidewinder's obsession with the past, which leads Dumas to his fate. Dumas tells his story in a naive, touchingly honest way and emerges as more sinned against than sinning, but no innocent, either. He's a Huck Finn sort, with the same propensity for mischief if not the self-awareness; his story is told in a style that rigorously preserves the believability of its events and of his character. An excellent choice for older readers.