Thursday, January 25, 2007

Death on the Flop - Jackie Chance

Death on the Flop
The First Poker Mystery
Jackie Chance
Berkley Prime Crime


Belinda (Bee) Cooley has had a really rotten week. She turned forty and is taking it hard. She quit her job as an advertising executive after breaking off her engagement to her boss. She broke off the engagement when she discovered her boss/fiancé boinking his twenty-two year old assistant in his office. Which is why, when we meet Bee, she’s throwing herself a great big pity party. Her plans for sitting around, feeling sorry for herself change, though, when her fraternal twin, Ben, arrives. He announces that he’s taking Bee to Vegas. Eventually, he admits that it’s not only a birthday get-away-from-it-all trip. Ben is registered in a Texas Hold ‘Em pro-am poker tournament. It’s big money and high profile; the last few rounds will be televised. Bee isn’t sure she likes the idea of either poker or Vegas, but she finally caves to her brother.

The siblings check into a suite at the Lanai Hotel, where the tournament will be held. Ben decides to scope out the competition, in particular, one Steely Stan, a pro player with a very nasty rep. When he doesn’t return for hours, Bee gets worried and goes looking for him. Too impatient to wait for the elevator, Bee is in the stairwell when she overhears an ominous conversation about someone needing to ‘deal with’ a stalker because of what he might have overheard. Shaken, she leaves the stairwell and continues her fruitless search. Arriving back at the suite, she finds a ransacked the room, and a blood smear on one wall.

Frank Gilbert, a security expert Bee met earlier in the evening, advises against calling the sheriff. According to Frank, you never know which deputy is corrupt and on the mob’s payroll. Testing that theory, Bee pretty much storms the front desk and demands to speak to the police. The head of security for the tournament happens to be right there. He also happens to be one of the men from the stairwell. Bee decides her best course of action is to hide in plain sight. She’ll take her brother’s place in the poker tournament. She should be relatively safe in such a high-visibility event; and her participation will allow her access to other players who may know something about Ben’s disappearance. One little problem, though: She’s never played the game.

With the recent surge in popularity of poker (who would have thought televised poker games would be ratings hits?) it was probably inevitable to set a series of mysteries around the game. And Vegas, with its unending cast of incredible characters, is a great venue for mysteries of all kinds. Even if you’ve never played a hand of Texas Hold ‘Em in your life – I haven’t – you’ll have no problems following the story. The author very neatly sets out the basic rules, and then allows the reader to watch the action as it unfolds. This is the solid beginning of what looks to be a promising series.

Rating: 7
January 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21348-3 (paperback)


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