A hugely ambitious, partly autobiographical novel by 'The Godfather' writer, Mario Puzo, Fools Die is a partly brilliant, partly embarrassing novel, at its best during the parts where money begins to change hands and poker tables come alive.
Fools Die came out in the year 1978 and is set in the New York, Hollywood and Las Vegas of the 1950s. Here, Puzo explores the culture of gambling, sex and other adult themed excesses in Las Vegas.
The novel focuses on the lives of three gamblers, Jordan, Merlyn and Cully, thrown together in Vegas, their fates entwined by the death of one, very early in the book.
On the night of his biggest win in Vegas at Xanadu, a casino, Jordan is found dead in his hotel room, presumably after committing suicide. Cully and Merlyn had met him that night and had played against him.
After the incident, Merlyn a struggling writer and compulsive gambler returns home to New York while Cully stays back in Vegas, rising as a big fish in the same Casino
Struggling to make ends meet and a family to support for, Merlyn is recommended by his father in law to join the army as an admin worker. Under the influence of a corrupt colleague and partly because he is under debilitating debts acquired due to his compulsive gambling habit, Merlyn begins to take kickbacks for getting out the sons of wealthy New Yorkers who had been enlisted to fight for America in the Vietnam War.
Soon the act is traced back to him and he is investigated by the Army. Merlyn calls on Cully Cross, his gambling acquaintance from a long time ago, who then uses his influence and contacts to help him get off the hook.
Merlyn then finds a job at a local newspaper where he meets the charismatic Osano, who is a famous writer and is quite influenced by Osano's thoughts and ideas.
Merlyn strikes gold when he writes a bestseller and has an offer from Hollywood to convert it into a movie. Merlyn moves there and falls in love with Janelle, a starlet. His experience with Hollywood leaves him disillusioned and lonely. At the same time, everyone he had felt close to begins to die. The deaths of his loved ones affect him deeply and he begins to get increasingly isolated.
While the author concentrates more on the slangs, the culture and lives of gamblers and players, the book has some brilliantly thrilling scenes happening, especially when the baccarat games, that closely resemble the dynamics of Poker tables, are at play. There are numerous quotable lines that you as a poker player can spout in a game, from this book. The casino director, Gronvelt is a fascinating mix of Don Corleone (The Godfather) and the other iconic anti heroes and ‘villains’ of Puzo’s other books.
The first part of this book is a true page turner, however, the latter half of the book suddenly takes a sharp turn towards tedious land and you begin to tire of the indulgences and constant digressions into other subplots.
All said and done, whenever there is money changing hands, deals being struck, gambles being made and risks being taken, the plot shines and thrills. That is the experience us Poker players live for, don't we?
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