cover image King of a Small World

King of a Small World

Rick Bennet. Arcade Publishing, $21.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-284-3

Private card games in the Maryland-Washington, D.C., area as well as the big casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City provide the setting for this unsentimental evocation of the arcane world of professional poker. Self-assured narrator and ace card-player ``Pinocchio'' Joe Moore is forced to rethink his values and his destiny when, in short order, he starts a new romance, gets a high-paying job as a dealer and learns he will soon be a father, by way of his old girlfriend. Known as the best poker stud in Maryland, Moore juggles changing responsibilities and complex relationships-based on friendship, family, love and money-to make a life for his new, nontraditional family while staying true to the best parts of himself. Bennet writes with confidence and precision, resisting hackneyed gambling metaphors while offering some insightful new ones (``The best poker I've ever played has always entailed peace... and when you've gained that view, that peace-when you'd rather have the truth, no matter how disappointing, over a false hope, no matter how desirable-then you're a player''). His easy knowledge of poker customs and practices, and the engaging narration-which climaxes with brisk bits of domestic and professional melodrama (Joey's newborn son is stolen by his in-laws; his mother is accused of stealing gambling funds)- make for an immensely enjoyable debut. (June)