Death Plays Poker: A Clare Vengel Undercover Novel by Robin Spano | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Death Plays Poker: A Clare Vengel Undercover Novel

Death Plays Poker: A Clare Vengel Undercover Novel

4.8 7
by Robin Spano

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"World class poker players are being strangled in their hotel rooms, and undercover cop Clare is given her second big assignment: to pose as a poker player in a major televised tournament, befriend the suspects, and find the killer in their midst."--P. [4] of jacket.


"World class poker players are being strangled in their hotel rooms, and undercover cop Clare is given her second big assignment: to pose as a poker player in a major televised tournament, befriend the suspects, and find the killer in their midst."--P. [4] of jacket.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the prologue of Canadian author Spano’s muddled, unsuspenseful second Clare Vengel novel (after 2010’s Dead Politician’s Society), the “Poker Choker” strangles Willard Oppal, a professional poker player, in his hotel room at a tournament in Montreal. When Clare goes undercover as Tiffany James, a wealthy amateur player trying to make it on the tournament circuit, in an effort “to find a killer in a haystack,” she encounters a host of poker players, from wily veteran T-Bone Jones to photogenic Elizabeth Ng, many of whom appear to be modeled on real-life pros. A poker writer, George, is secretly working on a book about the serial killer stalking poker players, and a high-tech cheating scam is going on, but the author fails to develop a palpable sense of drama or danger. Those not expecting the great poker mystery will be most satisfied.(Oct.)
From the Publisher

“A fast-paced, readable debut . . . Spano has created an enjoyable read, which bodes well for future entries.”  —Quill & Quire on Dead Politician Society

"This is a book that grabs you like a gambling addiction and doesn't let go." —Saskatoon StarPhoenix (January 21, 2012)

Product Details

ECW Press
Publication date:
A Clare Vengel Undercover Novel Series
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Clare could beat aces. It was the flush she was worried about. She studied the old man across from her. “What do you have? Aces?”

“Nah, I don’t got aces,” the old man said, meaning, Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.

Clare tried to find a clue on his face. Deep lines made his skin look more like leather than anything human. The eyes, of course, were blank.

“Raise.” Clare shoved some chips in forcefully. What she meant was Please fold.

“Re–raise you all in.” The man touched the rim of his cowboy hat. A real tell, or a fake one? And how was Clare supposed to single out a killer in a room full of professional bluffers? “Go home, kid,” the old man said, meaning, You’re out of your league in this card room.

But Clare wasn’t going home. She wasn’t going anywhere until she’d proven she could do this job. “Do I threaten you?” she asked.

The old man snorted and Clare thought she saw his nostrils flare. “Sure,” he said. “Kids like you threaten my game every day. You make it so profitable I get lazy and forget how to take on real competition.”

Clare drummed her fingers on the black table felt. If she called the bet and lost, she’d be out of the game. She could already hear Sergeant Cloutier’s scorn as he pulled her off the case and sent her home to dreary beat work chasing graffiti artists and bicycle thieves in Toronto.

But she couldn’t keep folding either. This man had been bullying her — or bullying Tiffany James, Clare’s fancy new cover character — all day. He couldn’t have the best hand every time. And the nostril flare — that had to be involuntary, right?

“Call.” Clare pushed the rest of her chips past the bet line. She could feel her hands trembling. The chip stack nearly toppled on its way into the pot.

The old man squinted at her. “You got something wrong with your brain? Unless you got a flush, Princess — which you shouldn’t, the way you’ve been betting this hand — that was an easy fold.”

“The bets have been made,” the dealer said. “Mr. Jones, please show your cards.”

The old man flipped his cards over, muttering, “Trip kings.”

“Straight.” Clare could hardly believe it. She’d just conquered T–Bone Jones in a battle of wits. She set to work organizing her new larger chip stack, and let out her breath with relief.

The old man peered at her. “That your daddy’s cash you’re burning?”

“No.” Clare faked indignation as she examined the manicure she’d been given the previous morning. It felt funny on her hands — she was so used to chipped nails with motor grease riding the crescents. “Every penny I spend is from my own trust fund.”

“Well, then.” T–Bone’s eyebrows lifted, and Clare wondered why he didn’t lick his chops with greed. “Let me help separate you from it.”

Clare’s heart was still thumping, but she gave him the coolest grin she could muster. “You just tried to take my money; I took yours instead, remember?”

“I’m not talking about some piss–ass tournament chip stack.” T–Bone’s lips curled into a sneer. “I’m talking about putting your money where your mouth is. In a cash game tonight.”

Shit. Clare had just told this guy she was loaded, but before she could say yes to a cash game, she would have to get the funds approved from her handler. “I don’t think I’m ready for a side game. I want to get my legs in this tournament first.”

T–Bone narrowed his eyes. “You got a big trust fund for gambling, but you won’t bring a few grand to a side game?”

Yeah. The guy made a good point. “I’m not gambling.” Clare tried to inject a haughty tone into her voice. “I’ve been reading tons of theory, and this poker tour is a solid investment. I think it’s smarter than playing the stock market, given the state of the global economy.”

“It’s not an investment if you can’t play the game.”

“I learn fast.” Clare met his eye, with maybe more Clare than Tiffany. “Tell you what: if I cash in this tournament I’ll play in a side game in Vancouver.”

“Just play with us,” Joe Mangan said from down the table. Clare recognized him from tv, though his frosted tips and smooth skin were well hidden behind a white hockey mask. To complete the ensemble, Joe wore an L.A. Kings shirt with the number 99. “What’s a few grand from your trust fund?”

Clare flicked her wrist dismissively, flashing a sparkly pink watch that cost what she made in a month. Good thing the rcmp was footing the bill for her wardrobe. “If I want to give money away, I know more worthy charities than you guys.”

Joe raised his eyebrows and the mask shifted upward on his face. “Says the girl with the Piaget on her wrist. You’re not giving the money away if you have a good time playing. You’re buying entertainment.”

“A ‘good time’ is a shopping trip to Paris.” Clare wrinkled her nose and tried to look disdainful. “My time spent here is work.”

She didn’t want to alienate herself, but Clare could not afford to seem overly ingratiating. Willard Oppal had been made and killed before his handlers had even seen it coming. Clare had to play it cool, like she could take or leave the players’ friendship.

“That’s the right attitude, kid,” said Mickey Mills, whom Clare also recognized from tv. Like Joe, Mickey had an average height and a stocky build. Unlike Joe, he was wearing dress pants and a pressed shirt. And Mickey was in his sixties — nearly double Joe’s age. “Don’t let these no–lifes talk you out of your money. You can dress ’em up and stick ’em on tv, but that don’t change their basic nature. Everyone’s a hustler here. You want to survive, you gotta learn to hustle back.”

“And let me guess,” Clare said, rolling her eyes, “you’re just the man to teach me.”

Meet the Author

Robin Spano is a crime writer and the author of "Dead Politician Society." She lives in Steveston, British Columbia.

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