Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Death Raise" Raises the Stakes

Have you ever had a poker session where you came away feeling you got killed?  Of course you have.  You just had one of those sessions where everything went wrong, you seemed to end up with the second best hand time and time again.  We all know how expensive that can be.  

Or maybe it was just one hand.  You were doing fine, maybe showing a nice profit, and you had the misfortune of having your dreaded pocket Kings run into pocket Aces, held by the only player at the table with a bigger stack than yours.  You could say you got killed.

But getting “killed” at a poker table takes on a whole new meaning in the new novel by Christopher Parks I just read, Death Raise.. 

The book is a thriller with a very prevalent poker theme.  It seems 10 people from around the country have been won an all expenses paid vacation to play in a very exclusive poker tournament being held on a remote island in a beautiful mansion somewhere in the Atlantic.

But the players obviously didn’t read the fine print when they signed up.  After the first round of the tournament, the winner of that first round is handed a gun, and he is given three seconds to kill one of the other nine players.  If he fails to shoot one of his fellow poker players, he himself will be shot to death.

Kind of brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “shootout tournament,” doesn’t it?

It is explained to them that this will happen every day until there is only one survivor.  Yikes!  Of course, there’s no escape from the island, though that doesn’t stop the remaining players from exploring avenues of escape.

So the novel is not really a “who done it?” but more of a “who is going to be done-in next?”  And of course, then, the inevitable question of “why that person?”

Another way to look at would be to say it’s a cross between Agatha Christie’s classic “And Then There Were None” and the TV show Survivor.  Only this is really the ultimate game of Survivor, isn’t it?  You don’t get voted off the island.  You get voted off this mortal coil. 

High Stakes Poker?  Yes, indeed, the highest stakes possible.

The book is a whole lot of fun.  The characters are forced to make (very temporary) alliances and of course, there are double-deals, triple-deals, broken deals, back-biting, double-crosses, etc.  Anything to survive.

All of the ten players had previously won some sort of poker tournament somewhere, so it is, at least on the surface, a fair fight.  Or at least they all conceivable have a chance to win.  None of them appear to be what you would likely call a professional poker player.

In fact, one of them mostly works as a Vegas stripper.  If I may be so bold, I would suggest to the author that there might very well be another novel (a prequel, if you will) in the story of a stripper winning a Vegas poker tournament.  I’m guessing she used the Jennifer Tilly effect to full advantage.

There are two other female players in addition to the stripper.  All of the women are at least tempted to use their feminine wiles to their advantage.  Which means, of course, that in addition to the “fun” of a nightly killing, there’s some sex in the story.  All the players are forced to use all their skills, talents and intellectual abilities to figure out how to survive.

And of course, that means winning each night’s round of poker.  Now, the poker is very much secondary here to the thrilling plot and all the deal-making and the attempts to find a weak spot in their captors’ well-designed prison.  The fun is in the plot, the characters, the twists and turns.  You never know who’s going to win each day, and who they will pick to kill, or why.

There’s also an intriguing sub-plot that takes place away from the island.  How that plot figures into the main one (and trying to figure that out) is another fun element to the whole story.

The poker itself is not really the reason to read this entertaining book.  It could really be any game, any kind of contest that involves both luck and skill.  By using poker though, it is easy to explain how the mysterious powers that be would know that all their contestants had had poker success.  In the book’s universe, the players are all no doubt all listed on Hendon Mob.

But in notes at the end of the book, the author indicates he got the idea for the book when he was the chip leader in a poker tournament in Atlantic City.  Wow, that must have been some poker tournament.  Actually, he said he was the chip leader at the final table but finished 7th (and no doubt is still pissed about that).  I guess that would explain why he would want to shoot all the other players!

So the poker itself is just background.  You will get no great insights to the game from reading the book.  In fact, a lot of the action as described is rather bizarre and inexplicable.  Some of that turns out to be due to the fact that the players are purposely playing to help other players, as part of their deals (yes, there’s definitely some collusion going on).  Other times it’s harder to justify.

No matter, that’s not the point of the book.  The fun is in the main story, the characters, the alliances, the double-crosses, and the all the action that ensues as a result.  The book definitely works as a thriller.

For a fun, quick read, I do recommend Death Raise, whether you play poker or not.


  1. NO WONDER you're not writing longer posts - you're reading novels... #disappointed

    1. You complain when my posts are too long, then you complain when they're too short. One of these days, Goldilocks, I'll get it just right for you.

  2. I'm going to have to read this but....uh....
    I'm a bit annoyed as for the past few years I've been composing (in my head) a poker game where the winner is the only one who survives....

    I'll still go ahead with mine at some point. I'm sure the quality will be a lot less and I'll be considered a rip-off (which, is more a rip-off of The Long Walk than this, but none-the-less true) but whatever.


    1. Yeah, well, knowing you Serge, I'm sure yours will be a lot more twisted than this and no one will see it as a rip-off.

  3. Rob, you know your blog is unsurpassed in quality & quantity. Congrats, always entertaining. I want to comment in TBC and VJ blogs, but they do not accept anonymous comments, and i'm not familiar with how to set up the other options. So, here goes, if you allow it. Comment for VJ: are you hitting that? ie-Mike. and for TBC: Taking bets on how long before TBC is eating out of dumpsters, given continued "dem good machines" play.

    1. Geez. Came very close to not approving this. I was torn because of the praise you made about my blog--which you are clearly dead on about--and the cheap shot you took at Tony. You are welcome to go on his own blog and say anything you want directly.

      I suggest you set up a limited blogger profile....it shouldn't take more than a minute or tow, you can come up with any fake name you want. You can probably even use something like Anonymous1, or some number.

    2. I assumed the praise would do the trick. Regardless i commend your literary "cajones", for allowing my remarks.