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4.8 6
by Adam Fawer

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From a brilliant new talent comes a riveting novel of chance, fate, and numbers, and one man's strange journey past the boundaries of the possible.

David Caine inhabits a world of obsession, rich rewards, and rapid, destructive downfalls. A compulsive gambler and brilliant mathematician prone to crippling epileptic seizures, he possesses


From a brilliant new talent comes a riveting novel of chance, fate, and numbers, and one man's strange journey past the boundaries of the possible.

David Caine inhabits a world of obsession, rich rewards, and rapid, destructive downfalls. A compulsive gambler and brilliant mathematician prone to crippling epileptic seizures, he possesses the uncanny ability to calculate odds of any hand in the blink of an eye. But one night at an underground poker club, Caine makes a costly mi scalculation, sending his life spinning out of control. Desperate, he agrees to test an experimental drug with unnerving side effects: inexplicable visions of the past, present, and future. Unsure whether he's perceiving an alternate reality or suffering a psychotic breakdown, Caine embarks on a journey that stretches beyond the possible into the world of the improbable. Gradually, he discovers the extent of his astonishing new ability -- but powerful, shadowy forces know Caine's secret. Now Caine must fight for his survival -- and his sanity . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As Sherlock Holmes once said, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Or as fourth-year Columbia statistics Ph.D. student David Caine tells his class in this science-driven, action-packed thriller, "[W]hen the chances of being wrong are minuscule, you have probably discovered the truth." Caine, a compulsive gambler, has just seen his sure-thing poker hand go bad, leaving him deep in debt to a Russian gangster. He can't skip town because he's started an experimental treatment for his temporal lobe epilepsy-a treatment that allows him to tap into the collective unconscious, a parallel universe known as the everywhen, where innumerable futures exist for him to choose from. Needless to say, this makes Caine a valuable commodity, and he's soon on the run from a number of government agencies, none having his best interests at heart. His schizophrenic twin brother, Jasper, aids him in his flight, as does tough female rogue CIA agent Nava Vaner. It's difficult to keep the competing bad guys straight, and discussions of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Einstein's theory of relativity, Schr dinger's cat, Laplace's demon and probability theory tend to slow things down. But the success of The Rule of Four and The Da Vinci Code have shown that plenty of readers enjoy their science, as long as there's a compelling plot encircling it, which there is here. Agent, Ann Rittenberg. (On sale Jan. 18) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
What would happen if a compulsive gambler gained the ability to see the future? Having been touted as demigods on innumerable business magazine covers, executives apparently think it's time to get into the novel-writing game as well, though one hopes the average product will be better than former About.com CEO Fawer's first try. A heartless melange of just about every hack bestseller subgenre you could imagine (Crichton, Cook and Ludlum are purists compared to Fawer's unabashed copycatism), Improbable is, in theory, about what happens when Manhattan gambling addict David Caine is offered an experimental drug by a too-good-to-be-true doctor in order to help with seizures. He's also into a Russian mobster for a few thousand, and his twin brother, Jasper, is now out of the asylum but no less insane. Then there's Nava Vaner, a standard-issue CIA contract killer, who's also selling secrets to the North Koreans and gets wrapped up in some subterfuge involving the drug that Caine has ingested. What makes the shadowy powers behind the scenes interested in poor Caine-who, before he went in for treatment, was just a gambling junkie uncommonly good at calculations-is that once on this drug, he shows signs of becoming the personification of Laplace's Demon, a mathematical theorem describing an all-knowing intelligence that can predict the future. Fawer is much too fond of talking math and quantum physics at length, a trait that can make for jarring transitions back into Nava's Spy vs. Spy-style activities (she eventually hooks up with Caine and together they fight the forces of darkness); but at the very least, no reader will come away from Improbable without knowing a great deal about Heisenberg'sUncertainty Principle. To his credit, Fawer writes pretty well, even if he does put in too much information about statistics. Cold and mechanical: fiction by computer. 25-city radio tour. Agent: Ann Rittenberg/Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency

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HarperCollins Publishers
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6.62(w) x 4.22(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Novel

Chapter One

"It's twenty to you, Caine. In or out?"

David Caine could hear the words, but he couldn't respond; his nose wouldn't let him. The smell was unlike anything he had experienced before -- a perverse stew of rancid meat and rotten eggs floating in a vat of urine. He had read on the Internet that some people killed themselves because the smell got so bad. At first he didn't believe it, but now ... now it didn't seem so crazy.

Even though he knew that the smell was a by-product of a few confused nerve cells, it didn't matter. According to his brain, the smell was real. More real than the cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over the table. More real than the greasy scent of McDonald's that still hung in the air from Walter's midnight snack. More real than the smell of sweat mixed with despair that permeated the entire room.

The smell was so bad that his eyes had begun to water, but as bad as it was, Caine didn't hate it as much as what it represented. The smell meant that another one was coming, and judging by the intensity of the vomitinducing, brain-crying stench, it was going to be a doozy. Worse still, it was coming on fast, and of all the times it could happen, he couldn't afford to have it happen now.

Caine squeezed his eyes shut for a moment in a vain attempt to hold off fate. Then he opened them and stared at the crumpled red-and-yellow box of fries sitting in front of Walter. It pulsed before his eyes like a cardboard heart. Caine turned away, suddenly afraid he might puke.

"David, are you okay?"

Caine felt a warm hand on his shoulder. It was Sister Mary Straight, an ex-nun with oversize dentures that were older than he was. She was the only woman at the table -- hell, she was the only woman in the whole club except for the two emaciated Romanian waitresses Nikolaev kept around to make sure no one ever had a reason to get up. But Sister Mary was the only female player. Despite that everyone called her "Sister," she was more like a surrogate mother to the men who lived down in the cellar or, as the Russians liked to call it, the podvaal.

Technically, no one truly lived in the podvaal, but Caine was willing to bet that if he asked any of the twenty-odd men crowded around the tables where they felt most alive, they'd say it was here, in the cramped, windowless basement fifteen feet below the East Village. All the regulars were like Caine. Gamblers. Addicts. Sure, some had fancy offices on Wall Street or important-sounding jobs in midtown and business cards with raised silver lettering, but they all knew none of that mattered. All that mattered were the cards you were dealt and whether you were in.

Every night they returned to the cramped basement beneath Chernobyl, the Russian supper club on Avenue D. Although the bar was dirty, the games Vitaly Nikolaev ran were clean. When Caine first laid eyes on Vitaly, with his pasty white complexion and thin, girlish arms, Caine would have guessed he was a CPA rather than a Russian mobster.

But all his doubts disappeared the night when Vitaly Nikolaev beat the living shit out of Melvin Schuster, a harmless old man who picked the wrong club to cheat. Before Caine knew what was happening, Nikolaev had transformed the paunchy grandfather's face into a red, pulpy mess. No one ever cheated at the podvaal after that.

And yet this was the place Caine chose to call home. The minuscule studio he had on the Upper West Side was just where he slept, showered, and occasionally shaved. Every now and then, he would get a girl to come up, but that hadn't happened in a long while. Not surprising, considering the only woman Caine had any interaction with was Sister Mary.

"David, are you all right?" Sister's question brought Caine back to the world of the living. He blinked his eyes and gave Sister a quick nod, which was enough to make his nausea return.

"Yeah, I'm cool, Sister. Thanks."

"You sure? Because you look a little green."

"Just trying to earn some green," Caine said with a halfhearted grin.

"Are we through coffee-housing, or you two wanna get a room?" Walter sneered through yellowing teeth. He leaned in close enough for Caine to smell the onions on his breath. "Twenty. To. You. In. Or. Out?"

Caine looked down at his hand and then again at the up cards, stretching his long, sinewy arms over his head of unruly black hair. He pushed the nausea back down his throat and forced himself to ignore the smell as he decided what to do.

"Stop running the odds and bet," Walter said, picking at a hangnail.

Caine was known for doing the complex math in his head necessary to calculate the odds of nearly anything. The only variable that Caine couldn't quantify was the probability that his opponents were bluffing, but he tried nonetheless. Caine felt like Walter was purposely trying to rush him, so he gave the old man a bored look and continued analyzing the board.

The game was Texas Hold 'Em and the rules were simple. Each player was dealt two cards, which was followed by "the flop" when three cards were turned over for everyone to see. Then the dealer would flip over a fourth card, known as "the turn," and then the fifth and final card, known as "the river." There was a round of betting after each flip, and then the players revealed. Whoever had the best fivecard poker hand -- out of the five shared cards in the middle and the two cards in his hand -- won.

The beauty of the game was that at any given moment an intelligent player could look at the board and know the best possible hand that could be made ...

A Novel
. Copyright © by Adam Fawer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Adam Fawer holds undergraduate and master's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and received an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. During his corporate career, Fawer worked for a variety of companies including Sony Music, J.P. Morgan, and most recently, About.com, where he was the chief operating officer. Improbable, his first novel, has already been translated into five languages. Fawer lives in New York with his partner, Meredith, and far too many pet fish.

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4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this entire book from beginning to end. Kept me wanting more and kept me up very late into the night. Great mix of action and science. Dare I say that you liking this book is very 'Probable.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Picked this book up in the store because the cover caught my eye, started reading a couple pages and ended up standing there reading for a half an hour. This is deffinately one of the best books i have ever red! I defenitely recomend everyone to check this book out!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished IMPROBABLE and it was one of the best books I've ever read by a new author. Heard about this book in USA Today and went right out to get it. Great job with characters, settings and storyline. Had me hooked within the first few pages. A must, must read. Keep up th great work Adam. Look forward to your next book, especially if we visit the everywhen again.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Columbia statistics Ph.D. candidate and teacher David Caine is a compulsive gambler, always believing in the odds. However probability fails him when he loses while holding a near perfect hand. He owes a Russian Mafioso big time.--- At the same time he struggles with his dangerous debt, David also receives experimental treatment for his temporal lobe epilepsy. However, the treatment provides David the ability to enter the everywhen, where he ¿witnesses¿ countless futures in which he selects which one he wants for himself. Soon, the Feds and the Russians seek David for their own purposes. With his just out of the asylum schizophrenic twin Jasper and CIA killer Nava Vaner as his allies, David calculates the odds of survival in spite of probably turning into Laplace's Demon mathematically calculating the future. --- IMPROBABLE is an enjoyable action-packed thriller starring an intriguing antihero whose gambling is as out of control as an itchy edge in his blood. Having someone like that able to see the future is a delightful twist because the fever is in the paying not the winning (though David does not want to lose). Adam Fawer provides fabulous insight into the mathematics and physics that serve as the background to everywhen, but that also slows down the plot and feels awkward when killer Nava joins the fray. Though mindful of the Professor Q books of Trevor Hoyle, but with more of an espionage mob ring than the historical take of the latter, fans will appreciate this interesting thriller, which probably means an educated dedicated fan base.--- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I started reading IMPROBABLE, I had no idea where it was going or whether or not I would even continue reading as it definitely was not my type of book.....or so I thought. Adam Fawer has created such amazing characters that suddenly became very real to me, maybe because of their faults....maybe because they 'spoke' out to me....maybe because of the talented writing....whatever the reason I found that I became so involved in their lives that could not stop reading. Page after page, like an onion with its layers, the plot started to reveal itself to me......or did it? David Caine's life wasn't the only one spinning out of control....mine was too since all else fell by the wayside as I kept reading ...and finally I forced myself to slow down, savor each and every word until the very end....and WOW!!!! what an ending!!! This phenomenal writer actuallly knew how to end this exceedingly complex book....!!!! So many times you'll be reading a really terrific book, you get to the end and it just folds flat....right????? Welll this one didn't at allll.....!!!! I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it all over again and that rarely ever happens with me!!!! What a completely totally original novel....what a fantabulous debut!!! I am so glad to hear that the publishers are going all out on the marketing thereby giving Adam Fawer the respect that he so richly deserves. Thanks for many hours of pure reading pleasure!!! Now hurry up with the next brilliant novel!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As the greatest bookseller in the great southwest (this can't be disputed...so don't try...lol), I am always looking for the next big book to handsell and more importantly, to tell my staff about because everyone at work is always waiting to see what I recommend next. I never let them down and I'm sure IMPROBABLE will not let them down either. Adam Fawer has written one of the most intelligent and original thrillers I've ever read. IMPROBABLE is a smart, multi-layered novel, full of fascinating characters. I hope we see these characters again and I hope we see another book by Fawer SOON. My job allows me to get some really great books before anyone else and I am grateful for that. Word-of-mouth is one of the most important things in this business, and I think that IMPROBABLE should generate some excellent word-of-mouth. I think if enough people get behind this wonderful novel, IMPROBABLE WILL be the book of 2005! I will do what I can to ensure this happens. I hope Adam Fawer writes quickly and Adam, I'll see you on the bestseller lists. Congratulations on a perfect book. To sum up. . . Improbable is GENIUS and you need to stop reading this and go buy a copy and see for yourself. What are you waiting for? GO!