Spokane-area author Frank Zafiro and Jim Wilsky, the two great minds behind “Blood on Blood”, have a new book out from Snubnose Press called “Queen of Diamonds.”
On his blog, Zafiro described “Queen of Diamonds” as a “sequel of sorts” to “Blood on Blood.” The new book by Wilsky and Zafiro describes what happens when Ania Kozak, the femme fatale who came between estranged brothers Mick and Jerzy Sawyer in their first collaborative novel spends a few days in Las Vegas and causes trouble for two professional gamblers.
Much like “Blood on Blood”, most of the book alternates between the points of view of two first-person protagonists. Cord Needham is a successful player on the World Poker Association (WPA) circuit, but he and his manager Ronnie Turnbull have a dark secret. Casey Brunnell is a small-time card shark who owes a lot of money to a gangster called The Swede. Both men are interested in Ania and that could destroy them, or cause them to win it all.
After Ania loses $100,000 to Cord in a “friendly” card game, she asks Casey to help her get her money back from Cord in a one-on-one cash game. Ania uses her feminine wiles on Cord to get him to agree to the rematch. She also seems genuinely interested in Casey, but she may just be up to her old tricks again.
On the face of things, “Queen of Diamonds” is a story about poker that will appeal to anyone who loves the game or has ever watched a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament on television. There is a lot more going on below the surface as Zafiro and Wilsky reveal more about their protagonists and the shady things happening at their favorite casino.
For Casey, helping Ania win her money back seems like a solution to all his problems. He has a short amount of time to pay off substantial debts, or he could end up dead. His relationship with a police lieutenant named Nicky Raines is falling apart, and he doesn’t have much going on other than gambling against tourists. He also hates Cord, so the idea of beating the WPA champ in a fair game strongly appeals to him.
Cord agrees to the rematch partly because he thinks he is helping Ania, but mostly for him it is about playing poker. He enjoys crushing opponents who have what it takes to provide him with a good challenge. He knows Casey is good enough to go pro, but that just makes him more determined to win.
Crime fiction lovers in the Spokane are will appreciate how “Queen of Diamonds” explores the darker side of its Las Vegas setting. Both Casey and Cord are haunted by violence and murder, and they live in a world with very few good guys. However, most of the important action in the story takes place during card games that are presented as epic struggles of will between Cord, Casey and anyone dumb enough to try their luck against them.
Readers with an interest in poker will appreciate the way that Wilsky and Zafiro describe the action during various games that are played throughout the book. They are able to capture that odd mixture of psychology, math skills and pure luck that can help people excel at Texas Hold ‘Em in a way that anyone could understand. They show a strong understanding of the game and why some people treat gambling for money like a career.
Anyone who has read “Blood on Blood” will realize right away that things will not go well for Cord or Casey if they continue trying to win the heart of Ania. Fortunately, Zafiro and Wilsky are able to keep readers guessing right up until the last few chapters when their plot threads finally all come together. They manage to both frustrate some expectations readers may have and bring everything to a satisfying conclusion.
“Queen of Diamonds” is available now from Amazon in Kindle ebook format and also in a handsome paperback edition with a cover designed by Eric Beetner.