QUEEN OF SPADES

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - MEG NOLA

Michael Shou-yung Shum, For­est Av­enue Press (OC­TO­BER), Soft­cover $15.95 (256pp), 978-1-942436-31-7 With quirky yet com­pelling in­tel­li­gence, Queen of Spades cre­ates its own small, in­ter­con­nected uni­verse. Michael Shou-yung Shum’s en­tranc­ing Queen of Spades en­ters the fic­tional realm of the Royal Casino, lo­cated on the out­skirts of Seat­tle amid the “pines and shad­ows” of the Pa­cific North­west.

The year is 1984, and the Royal is one of the last casi­nos still host­ing the ven­er­a­ble card game of Faro, held in the Royal’s el­e­gant High Limit salon.

While gam­bling is the pri­mary theme of Queen of Spades, Shum avoids mak­ing his char­ac­ters too slick or worldly, or too hack­neyed and street­wise. The novel in­stead eases into the casino through the em­ployee en­trance, fo­cus­ing on Ar­turo Chan, a newly hired card dealer, along with an­other dealer, Sam Chim­sky, and Pit Boss Stephen Mannheim.

Chan lives his life and deals his cards with mys­ti­cal pur­pose; Chim­sky has a se­ri­ous gam­bling com­pul­sion, and Mannheim is gravely yet se­cretly ill. The day-to-day, be­hind-the-scenes work­ings of the Royal are well de­tailed and as in­te­gral to the plot as the nightly games of Black­jack, Bac­carat, and, of course, Faro.

Pair­ing smooth and pol­ished writ­ing with keenly de­tached com­pas­sion, Queen of Spades ex­plores the power of a sim­ple deck of cards and its abil­ity to con­trol fates. Be­yond Chan, Chim­sky, and Mannheim, the char­ac­ters broaden fur­ther to Bar­bara, Chim­sky’s ex-wife and a re­cov­er­ing gam­bler, who sits through sup­port-group meet­ings that man­age to be both tire­some and un­nerv­ing.

Dr. Ec­cle­ston, a spir­i­tual coun­selor help­ing Mannheim ac­cept his ter­mi­nal ill­ness, is as­sisted by Theo, her preter­nat­u­rally clair­voy­ant young nephew. Casino Man­ager Gabriela keeps a shrewd eye on sur­veil­lance video­tapes, watch­ing for cheat­ing play­ers or em­ploy­ees. And then there is the el­derly Count­ess—mys­te­ri­ous, for­eign, and a tena­cious Faro player—al­ways mak­ing a grand en­trance at the Royal with her chauf­feur and sil­ver Rolls Royce.

With quirky yet com­pelling in­tel­li­gence, Queen of Spades cre­ates its own small, in­ter­con­nected uni­verse, in­clud­ing those who want to es­cape the se­duc­tive lure of gam­bling, those who think they can out­smart Lady Luck, or those who sim­ply put on a name tag and uni­form and of­fer casino chips, cards, and drinks.

Though the fates of cer­tain char­ac­ters re­main in­trigu­ingly elu­sive, as Chan re­flects, there is in­deed a fas­ci­nat­ing power to “the un­knowa­bil­ity of the world, and its sweet­ness.”

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