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by Richard Helms

Paperback - 252 pages (May 2000); ISBN: 0595089798 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.68 x 9.06 x 6.06

Reviewed by Karen Meek

Pat Gallegher isn't a private eye, he's just a guy who helps friends and friends of friends and it's helping a friend of his lawyer which almost gets him jailed for murder.

Former psychologist, Gallegher now finds himself living above the seedy bar in New Orleans where he plays the cornet into the small hours. At other times, he's trying to pay off his $20,000 gambling debt to a local mob character by shaking down other debtors on his behalf.

One night in the bar, his lawyer brings along a classy middle-aged lady, Clancey Vincouver, who needs Gallegher's help to find her toy boy, Sammy Cain. Clancey is convinced her husband has had her lover killed and so Gallegher agrees to find Sammy for her.

Though he can't believe his luck, Gallegher hits it off with Clancey's younger and gorgeous friend Meg and when Gallegher's mob boss asks him to speak to Lester Vincouver on another business matter, it's Meg who arranges for Lester to be alone in the house at the right time.

Unfortunately, when Gallegher turns up to speak to Lester, it's too late. At the same time as Gallegher finds Lester's dead body he hears sirens and realises he's been set up. Though he leaves the crime scene without incriminating himself, the local police are soon on his tail. It's up to Gallegher to clear his name and discover the real murderer.

JOKER POKER is full of atmosphere and harks back to the hard-boiled novels of an earlier era. I feel like I've been to New Orleans. The plot, which starts off simple, becomes more and more complicated with double crossing aplenty.

The writing is good but the pace is slightly uneven. The story begins with an excellent opening chapter, giving the reader the low-down on the character of Pat Gallegher. It moves on well until Vincouver's body has been found before slowing down whilst Gallegher appears to ignore some obvious facts. The narrative then gathers momentum until it reaches the exciting finale on Lake Pontchartrain.

There may be some stock characters like the psychotic sidekick but Gallegher himself is an irrepressible, multifaceted character who springs from the page. I'm keen to see how he fares in VOODOO THAT YOU DO.

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