Tag Archives: Clare Vengel

Death Plays Poker by Robin Spano

26th September 2011

*I received this book through NetGalley, courtesy of ECW Press. Preview the first three chapters here. Buy it from IndieBound here.

Clare is back in her second undercover assignment, playing poker on the Canadian tour. Someone is cheating at cards, and The Dealer, as he or she calls him or herself, wants to be in control of the tables, all of them. Poker players are getting strangled, and after the last undercover agent is killed, Clare is put in the game as a trust-fund princess, eager to show daddy poker can be gainful employment. But blingy sweatpants, $200 sunglasses, and hot pink everything is not exactly Clare’s style. She’s much more comfortable with greasy hands and repairing her bike than shopping and wearing heels. Can she jump into the role while still maintaining who she is and manage to find out why these players are being dealt such bad hands?

First of all, may I just say I think this is a brilliant cover? I love the retro look of it, but also, look at all the detail. Love. It. Death Plays Poker is a sequel to Dead Politicians Society, which I reviewed at the start of the year. In that book, Clare sort of stumbles around and somehow manages to pinpoint the killer. She’s learned a bit at the start of this book but not much.

In this installment, she’s belligerent and defiant toward her handler, when she claims to want to be so great at her job. Plus, she makes such rookie mistakes that I began to get irritated with her, until I remember she’s very young, early 20s in fact. She gets emotionally involved quickly, though she appears rough and tumble, and she’s very much in need of a handler who can instruct without preaching.

The other characters are straight off World Poker Tour, those interminable shows on ESPN, and I loved Spano’s depiction of the “tells” and theatrics that go into the poker persona. These people spend a good bit of time with one another at the tables and on tour. In a sense, Spano presents them as family, albeit an incestuous, extremely volatile one. It isn’t such a leap, then, to watch them play stop after stop even after a murder is committed. The game is an unforgiving matriarch, bringing them all back to face each other again and again.

This is a great rainy-day read, not too scary, but it’s no Agatha Raisin either. Clare can hold her own and reminds me a bit of Lily Bard, Charlaine Harris’s hard-ass creation.