11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"They say every man has a weakness. They say that for every man there's a woman somewhere in the world who can make him jump through fiery hoops just by snapping her fingers. They say a man's lucky if he never meets that woman." -- from Lucky at Cards
If your publishing imprint's best-selling novels were by a particular author, you'd keep putting out novels by that author, wouldn't you? Well, that must be what's going on over at Hard Case Crime, because Lucky at Cards is the third "lost" Lawrence Block classic they've come out with. Lucky for us, it's another doozy, but what else could you possibly expect from the master of the crime novel?
Bill Maynard is an ex-magician who found his way into the card-sharp business. He upset the wrong people in his last town, so he's moved temporarily to New York, following an opportunity. But he's about to get very distracted by another, much more unexpected, opportunity -- one "with hooker's hips and queen-sized [...]," and one that's easily as dangerous as getting aces and eights.
Lucky at Cards was originally released under the title The Sex Shuffle and the byline "Sheldon Lord," and it was published in 1964, the year before The Girl with the Long Green Heart, Block's previous Hard Case Crime outing. It shares a more optimistic tone with that novel that is a far cry from the much darker Grifter's Game (a.k.a. Mona) from just a couple of years before. This is apparently a huge coup for the Hard Case gang as Block has been notoriously shy when it comes to his early pseudonymous novels.
Its brisk pacing is a big attraction, but Lawrence Block's forte has always been his wonderfully complex plots, especially in these early novels. The likable, relatable characters like Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr came later -- guys like Bill Maynard in Lucky at Cards are just slightly nonaverage Joes with very healthy imaginations. Hell, they think like novelists, with their convoluted scenarios involving multiple character roles and layers of deception requiring huge amounts of footwork and no discernible sleep. No real person could pull all this off. And while this may be a drawback for some readers, I get a lot of fun out of watching these unrealistic, but still somehow highly plausible, situations play out. As long as Hard Case Crime keeps discovering these gems, I'll keep reading them.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This is the best of Block's Hard Case Crime novels, though all three are superb. It's all that the reviewers say--vintage, pulpy noir with all the expected features and attachments. The interesting thing is that it's very different from the current Block style. Block's Scudder, Burglar, and Hit Man books are silky smooth, with economical plotting, perfect pacing, and effortless, but plausible endings. LUCKY AT CARDS is very different, and not just because of the differences in genre. For one thing, the book spends a lot of time on the mechanics of the card sharp's craft, the differences between cheating at gin and cheating at poker, the simplicity of cheating at bridge, etc. Second, the plotting is far more complex than Block's usual, with cuticle-chewing suspense and nasty double binds. The characters are straight out of the pulp noir genre, but they're still engaging and memorable. One of the first we meet is a dentist with a heavy nicotine addiction who sticks his fingers in the protagonist's mouth and annoys him with their taste. Yum. Welcome to pulpdom.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2007
You know you're in the classic noir time zone when our protagonist is disgusted by the taste of nicotine on the fingers of the dentist working on his teeth. Bill, a professional card sharp, has lammed out of Chicago with a mouth full of broken teeth (guess why). A pause for dental repairs at some huckburg. An invitation to a poker game. At the game, one of the player's wives, Joyce, wanders in and, on the QT, let's Bill know she recognizes what he's doing. Bill and Joyce, being two of a kind, plot to take hubby's money.( Interestingly, it's not by killing him.) While Bill starts putting the set-up in place, he takes a job as cover. What do you know? He's good at this job! Then he meets a soulful school teacher, who digs him. Two paths. Which one? You may think you have it figured out, but Block pulls off a twist ending that will have you grinning and shaking your head. If you like your pulp high on wit and low on gunplay, this is your book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2007
This is a fabulous reprint of a Lawrence Block title originally published in 1964 from the good folks at Hard Case Crime. I don't believe anything was altered to fit 2007. Esso gas is mentioned. The prices all sound like 1964's. I like that.
This paperback is a pure gem. The card sharp is Bill Maynard who has breezed into town. After caught cheating and getting his thumbs busted, Bill beat it out of Chicago. He meets a vivacious Joyce Rogers who's married to a Murray Rogers, a wealthy tax lawyer. Sparks fly. Bill and Joyce soon scheme to rip off Murray and go off to live the good life.
The poker and card-playing references give the tale its gritty realism. Bill with a conscience becomes a likeable protagonist. Marvelous twists and great minor characters, too.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I've been a long time fan of pulp but haven't really dipped into the realm of "real world" crime pulp. Usually in the crime pulps I read there is a buff bronze-skinned super-genius, a mystery man that can cloud the minds of men or some other fantastical element.
Even though it's a modern reprint, it has classic pulp art from the 60s which immediately caught my eye and made me give it the once over. The brief summary on the back tells of an on the run cardsharp who falls for the wife of his latest mark and their hatching a scheme to get rid of her husband. Gambling, infidelity and possibly murder? That pretty much sold me on it.
Block describes how the main character cheats at cards with the same skill Ian Fleming would talk about any card game Bond ever played. Even if it's not something you'd normally be interested in, he makes it interesting. The lingo is dealt out in such a way to make you feel like you're part of the scene instead of just reading a book.
The rest of the text is exactly what I'd expect in a hard-boiled crime novel: plenty of smoking, drinking, the occasional roll in the sheets and of course, the best laid plans falling apart. There was also the laugh out loud use of the phrase "genital gymnastics."
Here's another sample:
"Joyce walked toward me. Gears locked within me. I didn't move toward or away from her. I stood very still and she came closer. Her breasts jutted out like mortar shells. I could smell her perfume mingling with the hot animal scent of her body. She came closer, and I felt her body heat, and her lips were inches from mine. If I raised her face or lowered mine I could have kissed her. I didn't."
They don't write em like that anymore! Of course I enjoy the usual larger than life heroes and crazy things that tend to happen in other pulps but they all share a unique language which is something that keeps me coming back for more.
Prior to this, I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy this type of story firmly rooted in our mundane day-to-day world but now I know better. I'll definitely be checking out more in this genre. You can read a sample chapter on the Hard Case Crime site.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2013
If you are looking for good old fashioned noir fiction, as far as I am concerned, you can't do anything better than this book. It was originally written as a mass market paperback in 1964 by Lawrence Block and, more recently, reissued by Hard Case Crime. It is a great read from the first page to the last and holds up well over time. Our protagonist Maynard or "Wizard" as he is affectionately known was a small time penny ante magician who is taught how to be a card hustler by a con man out of Florida. Falling into the hustling life, he does quite well at his craft until he is forced to leave Chicago in an incident that leaves him desperately in need of a dentist. Upon getting his dental work done, his new acquaintance introduces him to a local card game hosted by an older wills and trusts attorney with a young knockout for a wife. Of course, the wife who soon has Maynard under her siren's spell is trapped in her marriage and needs Maynard to figure out a con or a scam to get her out of it with a flush bankroll. Can Maynard continue his middle class life with the perfect girlfriend or does he succumb to Joyce, the femme fatale a man is unlucky to meet. A great story, well written, and worth your time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Almost 50 years ago Block penned this short novel about a card sharp and the trouble he gets in as he passes through a town. There are lots of classic plot elements in here that Block became known for, but you can see that this was earlier in his career as some of the paragraphs repeat information from earlier paragraphs, and there are many characters not worth the page space given to them. However, Block's ear for dialogue and narrative focus move this novel along at a pretty brisk speed, and you'll be entertained the whole while. What's especially interesting is how poorly written all the female characters are.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This book, written in 1964 and reprinted now by Hard Case, shows the real value of the Hard Case Crime line of crime novels. It's classic example of '60s crime fiction, a piece of history, but at the same time it's also a good read, a page-turner. The historical element is fun - all the now-anachronistic things like elevator attendants, the stick shift, and a whole lot of cigarette smoking. The writing is crisp, with colorful noir-ish characters and descriptions, and the plot is in the vein of movie thrillers of that period. I must say, the last chapter turned out differently than I expected! (Which is a good thing...I'm not surprised by thrillers or mysteries all that often.)
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2007
Hard Case Crime's newest offering is a 40 year old novel from master crime writer Lawrence Block. Block delivers the goods with this tale about a drifter/grifter card cheat. While the plot is thin in spots, the "noir" feel shines through with spare, tough, spot-on dialogue and characters that seem believable for the time and place. "Lucky at Cards" is a quick, satisfying dip into the "noir" crime fiction pool.
on April 28, 2014
Lucky at Cards
This 1964 novel is the story of William Maynard, a stage magician, who uses his card handling skills to become a professional gambler. He was caught cheating in Chicago and was severely beaten. So he traveled east where he could play with less knowledgeable players. “Not every stranger is a card sharp, but every card sharp is a stranger.” This novel should educate everyone who doesn’t want to be fooled and cheated. Gambling isn’t legal in most places, you can’t go to the police to complain about cheaters. Bill is in a new city and gets invited to a card game among a dentist’s friends. None of them notice Bill’s skills, until the wife of the host shows up. She is beautiful and observant. Is she content with her life?
Bill gets involved with Joyce. Her husband had a marriage contract that would leave her little in a divorce. Or is there a way to nullify this deal? Bill figures out a way and starts working on it. Can a man be convicted of murder if there is no body? [Yes, for the purposes of this story.] This plan seems to work, but there is an unseen complication. Meanwhile Bill meets a divorced schoolteacher, Barbara, who falls deeply in love with him. Mr. Roger’s release results in big trouble for Bill, even after he leaves town. Later Bill returns for a showdown with Murray, a duel that is settled by a card game. Both Bill and Murray behave out of character here, this leads to a happy ending. [Is this believable?]
The value of this story is its warning: don’t play cards with a stranger in town. The names of the automobiles seems like Product Placement.