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Irish Gilt by Ralph McInerny

Publisher:  St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN:  0312336888

Reviewed by Anne K. Edwards, New Mystery Reader

Spring is in the air on the Notre Dame campus and Philip Knight is bereft of sports events to attend.  His brother, Roger, who chairs Catholic Studies, commiserates with him, but he has a job to do. 

Currently under discussion in class is the writings of Father John Zahm, formerly of Notre Dame.  A strange coincidence of two other former students having an interest in the writings of the same man. While each has his own reason for his interest, things happen when they discover the other's interest and this draws the Knight brothers into murder.

Lifelike characters will lead you a merry chase as you try to figure out what will happen next.  Will you find yourself sitting on a bench next to a corpse?  Or will you want to know who has a missing file of letters?  What does this have to do with the gold of El Dorado?

These and other questions will keep you reading and enjoying the not-so-scholarly atmosphere of murder on a time-honored campus.  A well-told tale by a talented author that will keep the pages turning to the end.  Enjoy.  I really did.



Busting Vegas by Ben Mezrich

Publisher: William Morrow ISBN: 0060575115

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

In Bringing Down the House, Ben Mezrich told the compelling story of a team of MIT students who took card counting at blackjack to unprecedented levels, winning hundreds of thousands of dollars before their success caught up with them and the casinos were able to effectively bar them. In his newest book, Busting Vegas, Mezrich tells the story of a small team of MIT students and grads who took beating the house at blackjack to another level.

Counting cards gives the player a slight advantage over the house, as all that can be predicted is the number of high (or low) cards remaining to be dealt. The techniques of Busting Vegas are more arcane and precise: knowing when a specific card will be dealt, and using this knowledge to either build the player’s hand, or, even better, to bust the dealer.

Anyone who wants to know how they do it will have to buy the book. Suffice to say Mezrich rations out hows and whys with what is sometimes a maddening deliberateness, but you’ll know learn all you need to know to enjoy the ride and appreciate the adrenaline surges the players get as they take the casinos’ money from under their noses while waiting for the dreaded hand on the shoulder to remove them from the premises. Sometimes the hand is polite and offers an “understanding” of why the players are being asked to leave; sometimes not.

Mezrich treads a fine line as well as can be expected. He has a compelling story to tell; he doesn’t have particularly compelling characters through which to tell it. The MIT team is arrogant to the point of hubris; much of their plan assumes they’re so much smarter than anyone at the casinos that no one will be able to figure out what they’re doing well enough to stop them. They’re only half right: the casinos only figure out they’re winning, never how. That’s enough; it never occurs to the team that the casinos don’t need much reason to bar them. Winning too much is enough.

Once you know the three techniques, Mezrich’s story is about the internal and external intrigues of strong personalities trying to work together while staying one step ahead of the casinos, and he tells it well. Jumping from the present day and back to provide context is sometimes a maddening delay when approaching a climax, but on balance it’s effective, as Mezrich is providing necessary backstory to make the climax that much more effective when he finally gives it to you.

Busting Vegas has no heroes. The MIT team isn’t particularly likable; the casinos are detestable. Not content to hammer 99% of their customers, they hound the one percent who can beat them with the diligence of Inspector Javert pursuing Jean Valjean. Mezrich maintains interest by having the good sense to let the story tell itself. It’s a good decision; the story is more than compelling enough to keep anyone reading.

A word of warning. Mezrich explains the techniques used by the team in matter-of-fact terms, which is how the team views them. It’s safe to say the players described are smarter than just about anyone reading the book. The standard disclaimer applies: These are trained professionals. Do not try this yourself. Just read the book. It’s a much smaller investment of time and money, and you’ll never have to worry about being taken to the back room of a casino.