Michael Kardos’s Bluff is an absolute delight. Natalie maims a volunteer at her magic show in a priceless scene, but it’s Natalie we feel bad for. Surrounded by jerks, she’s the victim of repeated unfortunate circumstances for which she is totally innocent or only partly blameworthy.
Falling deeper into a hole, she shifts from honing her craft as a professional magician to learning about card sharps. This sets in motion a suspenseful series of events leading up to a million-dollar poker match. In the process, Natalie teams up with Ellen, a woman with great technical skill at the poker table who offers Natalie mentorship as well as a glimmer of friendship that seems to be missing from her life.
The descriptions of magic acts and card sharping are presented with such enthusiasm and intrigue that they are 100 percent compelling, even though I don’t even care about those topics in the real world! The details reach out and grab you by your throat with their authenticity. Kardos’s heartfelt and precise language elevate the novel above typical genre fiction.
Also, I loved the sense of humor in Bluff, especially in the beginning and in the middle before things became more serious. Kardos is able to present information in a very funny, succinct, and descriptive way. It’s not the zany, confrontational humor of Carl Hiassen–it’s much more economical and subtle.
Even though I’m not a magician, a gambler, or a woman, I felt connected to and very invested in Natalie and her plight. Some books take me months to finish because I lose interest, but this one I gobbled up in three days. I even stayed up late to finish, which I can’t remember doing with any other novel ever!
But it turned out that I wasn’t sold on the ending, otherwise this would have easily earned five stars for the wonderful language, humor, character development, compelling details, and near-Hitchcockian suspense.