This was the first of the twenty books that Evan Hunter did for William Hamling, and it is a nifty little gambling/crime book; in fact it reads, with it’s lack of the ususal sex scenes, like something Hunter may have written with Gold Medal or Dell or Avon in mind and could not sell, so he tacked on one detaled sex scene as the last chapter to make it fitting for Nightstand. That’s just a guess.
The protagonist is Mike McCloud, freshly sprung from the pen on a five year strecth for armed robbery. He grew up in a family of magicians and knows a lot of tricks. He hitch hikes to Vegas with nothing but the clothes on his back and $20 to his name. He walks into the Sunrise Hotel and heds to the craps table where, within hours, he turns twenty bucks into ten grand…he is using weighted dice palmed in his hand, a magician’s sleight of hand that not en the pit bosses know what he is doing. He then asks to see the owner, Frankie Harvard, and tells Harvard how he did a con to get the money, and asks for a job to catch hustlers. He gets the job.
The intricate details of gambling hustler tricks shows that Hunter knew some things here, reminding me of Lawrence Block’s/Shelon Lord’s The Sex Shuffle aka Lucky at Cards in certain ways that card game hustles were shown.
Lynn Munroe’s take on Las Vegas Lust should be noted:
McCloud is a laconic, flawed, tough gambling antihero, the kind of guy Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were playing in movies like The Hustler and The Cincinnati Kid. McCloud goes to work for the casinos, busting the con artists and grifters who breeze through the story. The sex scenes seem added on (they probably were), and one way you can tell Hudson’s heart isn’t in it is that all the different women are described in exactly the same words (every single one of them, we are told, has “long and dark” nipples). None of the “variety is the spice of life” smorgasbord of feminine types of the Clyde Allison books is at play here. Although the story eventually peters out into a thoroughly unbelievable ending with plot holes you could drive a fleet of trucks through, there is enough going on here to make us want to give Hudson another try. If, that is, you can believe a cutie Vegas lounge singer/gambling addict could be a virgin. Of course, our virile stud Mike McCloud will handle that at the climax.
True, the solution to McCloud’s big problem — the $53,000 gambling debt the virgin singer he is in love with racks up, a debt he takes on so she won’t have to become a hooker and fuck her way out of the jam — is a bit convoluted and strange, when with his skills he could easily do some tricky gambling and come up with the cash. The crazy solution is…well, unqiue.
The book is good enough for a revival, however; would make a fine Hard Case Crime title.