An Elmore Leonard–esque lowlife ascends to a Dante Alighieri heaven by way of a a Francis Ford Coppola–like Las Vegas, in this debut novel.
Direct-mail con man Danny Pellegrino markets a gambling system invented by genius mathematician Virgil Kirk. When Danny finds that the system—“Win By Losing”—actually works, he refuses to fill orders, thus attracting the unwanted attention of a neurotic postal inspector, an obese Godfather-quoting Mafioso and unsavory others who, like Danny, want to use the system before casinos outlaw it. According to the subtitle, comedy ensues. Armstrong, like a long-odds craps shooter, throws eccentric characters, wayward plotting and banal diction at the page with the hope they’ll somehow string together and come up winners. The few comic moments require a tolerance for chronology errors, narrative improbability, persistent clichés and solecisms that make one wonder if this book, purportedly narrated by God, was edited by a human. Armstrong seems to know how mail scams work, who casinos choose to comp, what really goes on in tanning salons, when to tip a lap dancer and enough physics for guide Virgil to fill up a few pages with quantum mysticism. As if all this expertise were pornography requiring a redeeming frame, the author puppeteers Danny from the casino inferno of Atlantic City through topless-bar purgatory in Vegas to a witness protection paradise in Venice.
Abandon all taste ye who enter here.