5 stars out of 5
Warning: Don't even think about speed-reading this book. Oh, you can try, but if you do, you'll miss a whole bunch of good stuff. I found that out early on, and after the first wave of "Oh drat - I've gotta concentrate on this one" hit, I settled back, took my time and enjoyed the heck out of the rest of the ride.
This is, for the record, Book 2 in what Amazon lists as a two-book series featuring "The Preacher" - a one-eyed priest (Episcopal, I think), Vietnam veteran and professional gambler. When the publisher offered an advance copy for review, the description sounded like a sure bet. I didn't feel at a disadvantage for not having read the first book, either, although now that I'm done I'm pretty sure I missed out on another good thing (that book was a finalist for an Edgar Award).
In this one,The Preacher (readers never get to know him by any other name) knows his way around self-defense because of his Vietnam experience, and he's no slouch at the poker table, either. In fact, he's come to a high-stakes private game at a swanky Las Vegas casino to earn money to support his tiny congregation. Among the other players are a big-time televangelist and a couple of The Preacher's old friends (one of whom is a guy dubbed "Corner Pocket," who happens to be the chief investigator for the Clark County District Attorney's Office). Just as the betting turns serious, all hell breaks loose: two men with machine guns burst through the door, blasting away. The Preacher, the televangelist and the assistant D.A. escape injury, but the other old friend doesn't fare so well (nor does one of the two gunmen). The second hitman hits the ground running away - straight to the roof - where he hitches a ride on a waiting helicopter and escapes.
When the dust settles, the injured friend is rushed to the hospital, and The Preacher and other survivors are questioned by police. The gunmen left behind few clues, except for one oddity: On top of one of the dead bodies is a hand of cards - all aces and eights. Surely, that means something, all agree - but what?
At the hospital, The Preacher hopes his injured friend, whose name is Sam Goines, will regain consciousness and shed some insight on what happened back at the casino. Sam's beautiful wife, Maxey (who just happens to have had a years-ago fling with The Preacher), rushes to visit and is hopeful that first part happens as well. Suddenly, the plot thickens, and the hospital becomes the site of what will be several plot twists, more murder, mayhem and sleight of hand, a character who would give the late Howard Hughes a run for his money, a race to find an errant atomic bomb and yes, more of those hands of aces and eights. Saying much more would give too much away, so I'll just say it's an intelligently written, fast-paced story that hooked me from beginning to end.
When that end came, though, I learned that the author passed away in 2001, making me wonder why it took this long for it to be published. Further, a quick check at Amazon of the first, The Preacher, showed a May 2016 release date. My journalist's curiosity really kicked in then, prompting me to do a little sleuthing. Turns out the first one was published in 1988, followed by not one, but two others. The third, King of Diamonds, appears to have been released in 1989, and given how much I loved this one, I was interested. But good luck getting a hand on it; the only copy I could find has a list price of $184.19 - used, no less - so since I'm not that flush at the moment, I'm gonna pass. None of that is a big deal in terms of how good the books are, of course, but I'm a big believer in truth in lending.
Bottom line? This one's a winner, so if you're game, go for it!
The Preacher: Aces and Eights by Ted Thackrey Jr. (Brash Books, May 2017); 349 pp.