Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic, $26.00, 272 pages, ISBN 978-0-8021-2804-1
Bluff is a novel about the practice of sleight of hand, or magic, and magic is done by practicing the art of misdirection. The conjurer talks the audience into looking over there while at the exact same time doing something over here and presto . . . a deck of fifty-two cards thrown against the wall falls to the floor . . . except for one. That’s the one a volunteer picked from the deck and showed the audience a few moments earlier then inserted back in the deck. That particular card is thumb tacked to the wall. Face out. The mind won’t accept—can’t believe—what the eyes have seen. That’s magic. It’s fun and entertaining. It takes tens of thousands of repetitions to become adept . . . before the hand can fool the eye and the brain. But magic has a sinister side too, an evil twin called card manipulation. It’s used to cheat at games of chance.
Bluff, by Michael Kardos features a down on her luck, broke magician named Natalie Webb. She’s twenty-seven years old, a card-trick prodigy, and a has-been who was used and thrown away by an unscrupulous older magician. He slept with her, stole her best trick and claimed it as his own . . . then revealed to her: “It’s common knowledge that I’m married.” Natalie was just eighteen at the time, attending her first World of Magic Convention . . . and she’s been shunned by the community of professional magicians ever since. As she struggles to make a subsistence living at her craft, a card trick ends in disaster, injuring and possibly blinding an aggressive personal injury lawyer. He’s described as a “Professional A–hole,” nicknamed Lucifer by his peers because of his willingness to resort to any tactic, no matter how low or vile, in order to win his case. Faced with thousands of dollars in legal fees, and the potential of many more in settlement costs, the beleaguered young woman takes on a writing project for a national magazine in which she will reveal some magic tricks, (A serious infraction amongst the fraternity of magicians), and compare them to an adept card cheat at the poker table. First however, Natalie has to find a poker-playing cheater . . . which leads her to Atlantic City . . . which in turn introduces her . . . Sorry folks. You’ll have to read this killer of a thriller to get the answer to that, and other questions, such as what is a classic pass, a Greek deal, or a Charlie Miller table pass. Bluff combines the elements of revenge, street justice, and gut-wrenching suspense to create a racy spellbinder of a novel that you can’t put down, can’t stop reading, and just can’t figure out until the very twisted end. And hey! Don’t forget that the art of magic is the practice of misdirection!