BOOK CLUB PICK
As Michael Shou-Yung Shum’s first novel, Queen of Spades (Forest Avenue Press, 9781942436317), opens, it is 1984, and the Royal Casino sits in rural splendor just outside the small town of Snoqualmie, Washington. The lives of four characters revolve around the casino, famous for being one of the last places in the world where hands of Faro are dealt. Mannheim, manager of the pit, has spent almost 40 years at the Royal, and is reeling from learning that he has only months left to live. He has recently hired a new dealer, Chan, who has come to the Royal for a new start. Chan becomes fascinated with one of the casinos long-time regulars, a big bettor known only as the Countess. Chimsky is another dealer, one lucky enough to deal in the high-stakes room where the Royal’s singular Faro table reigns. A gambling addict, Chimsky finds himself deep in debt to a local bookie. In addition, Chimsky’s ex-wife Barbara is struggling with her own addiction to gambling, determined to stay away from the tables—and Chimsky. The point of view shifts among these four as their fortunes rise and fall. The reader will feel the rhythms of a casino floor and even learn a little about rules of the games played at the
Royal, and while the author does not shy away from showing the desperation of the hardened gambler, there is an undeniable thrill in his descriptions of a winning streak. This debut exhibits a lovely command of language and an astute eye for human frailty, while exploring the intersection of chance and fate.
Book Group Bonus: As this novel is based roughly on a short story of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, book groups discussing this title should consider reading the Pushkin story and discussing the parallels and points of diversion.