Saturday, December 8, 2012

Matt Cairone tells a chilling tale of gambling and murder.

This novel sounded intriguing, not least because it was called “an existential work of literary fiction” in the publishers blurb.

The Brit

The Brit (346 pages, CreateSpace Publishing, $10.50) tells the story of the professional gambler, T.S. Fowler, and various people who encounter him during his short time in Las Vegas, Nevada.

T.S., who is mostly called The Brit in the novel, has come to Las Vegas to improve his earnings at poker, which he plays for high stakes, as does his wife, and they both support themselves in this way.  The Brit is not cheating or working any system besides luck and his knowledge of the game.  But he gets so into playing that he hardly eats, pops amphetamines to stay awake, and drinks, with coffee or gin, depending on whether he wants to keep playing or to crash.

On this particular visit to Las Vegas, he seems to be doing well in reconstructing his fortunes.  He is strung out, but he still manages to keep up decent conversational patter, and when he does chat late one night with an attractive corporate lawyer, she is on her guard, but she likes him enough to give him her card.

Meanwhile, in London, his wife Edith is trying to cope with a sense that her life has become meaningless.  She visits a counselor and feels for the first time in a long time happy about her prospects and the chance of working things out with the husband, whom she realizes she hardly knows.

During his second day, the Brit’s luck turns sour, and he almost instantly loses not only all his gains but everything he bought with him to Las Vegas.  This sends him into a crazed spell in which he does some horrendous things, and the next thing Edith hears is that he is being held in a Las Vegas jail on an indictment for murder.

Edith responds to his call and heads to Las Vegas with the little cash she has and no idea where to turn.  In the meantime, the Brit has phoned the lawyer, Mary, explaining his plight and asking for her help.  She says she will try to help him find an attorney, but she does nothing and he is appointed a public defender.  That turns out to be an overworked but very competent and concerned young man, who helps the Brit to shape a defense.  He calls Mary again, however, and asks her to help with his wife.

Feeling guilty, Mary agrees to contact Edith and offer her a place to stay when she arrives in Las Vegas.  The two women hit it off immediately, and the intensity of their feelings help them both deal with the crises surrounding them.  I say “crises” because everything seems to go wrong.  The judge rejects a plea—because he is upset that a Lockerbie defendant has been set free in Britain; there is an explosion at the jail; and Edith ends up returning to London alone.

It is a simple tale, almost a long short story or a novella, but it is powerful and thought provoking in lots of ways.  I am not sure I would call it existential, but I would recommend it nonetheless.

Matt Cairone

The Brit: Drawing Dead is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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