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Play Dead, by Michael A. Arnzen Book Review | SFReader.com
Play Dead, by Michael A. Arnzen Genre: Horror Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press Published: 2005 Review Posted: 8/2/2005 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10
Play Dead, by Michael A. Arnzen
Book Review by Ray Wallace
Have you read this book?
Johnny Frieze is a young man down on his luck. A one time hotshot poker player, he finds himself betting and losing the last of his life savings during a card game with a vastly inferior player named Jimmy the Gunn. Then, in a moment of utmost desperation, Johnny excuses himself from the table, heads for the bathroom, slams his face against the edge of the sink there, pulls the gold tooth from his mouth, and returns to the game. And loses again. Sometimes fate, or whatever it is that controls the cards, just isn't on your side, it seems. And fate is something that Johnny Frieze becomes intimately familiar with throughout the course of Michael Arnzen's latest novel, Play Dead.
Completely destitute, Johnny soon finds himself spending a lot of quality time at a local Las Vegas homeless shelter. Yeah, it sure pales in comparison to any of the suites at the casinos a few streets over but it's a place to find a free bed and a meal, two things that have taken on sudden significance in Johnny's life. He is more than a little surprised to find how easily he adapts to his new existence, how quickly he finds himself fitting in with the other losers who inhabit the shelter. And, yes, many of the other men there literally are losers just like him, players who also lost it all and found themselves with nowhere else to turn.
Then along comes Winston. He drops by the shelter on occasion, talks to some of the homeless guys there, passes out free cigarettes. It's obvious that he's up to something but just what that something might be Johnny doesn't know. After a fellow homeless guy's pet rats are killed and dissected, then left on one of the shelter's beds in an obvious pattern, the sense of mystery surrounding the place deepens. It isn't long before Johnny discovers what is happening though. It seems that Winston is a representative of a man called Nebo, the owner of one of the most successful casinos over on the strip, a man who is putting up a huge sum of money which will go to the winner of a very special game of poker. Butcher Boy, the game is called, and it is not played with ordinary cards. The players must make their own cards. Each one must depict a scene of death, a snapshot of a killing committed by the player himself. Bugs and animals will do for the number cards. As for the face cards, well, the victims must be human, the scenes of death increasingly creative.
Does Johnny want in?
You bet he does.
Of course, things are not quite what they seem in the world of Play Dead. The stakes are much higher than any mere sum of money. What is Nebo's real motivation behind funding a game like this? Throw in a sexy woman with a hidden agenda of her own and a number of surprisingly brutal killings and you have the makings of an entertaining read. And a topical one too, given the poker craze that has recently swept the country. Broken down into fifty-two chapters, Play Dead is sure to appeal to both card players and horror fans alike.
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