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Liam knew instantly that the pigs were knocking at his door. The volume pf the pounding, and the impatiene of its rhythmn came from one source only : a policeman's knuckles.
Gamblers and criminals have one thing in common : they live for money. They have a fascination for dough that transcends the power of human relationships. The very idea of throwing them together in a sitation where $750,000 is at stake seems like a cruel psychological experiment without context, but whatever sounds like a cruel psychological experiment is often a great premise for a novel. Martin Stanley's THE GAMBLERS is a half-gritty crime novel, half-epic portrait of the Brtish underbelly that's delivered right up in your grill. It's wild, non-stop and a little bit out of control. It's a novel so intense and uncompromising, some of its strengths turn into weaknesses over its sprawling length.
THE GAMBLERS is a complicated novel featuring several characters, reminiscent of 19th century epic novel like THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, except, you know, with more guns, pavement and cynicism. There is Kandinsky, a gambler out of his luck, unable to hold on to a dollar and indebted for three large to his loan shark. Liam, a young and ambitious gangster, looking to be move up into the underbelly's monarchy. There is also McManus, Spike and several other shadowy figures witt sharp teeth, who all want a part of Liam's dream : a $750,000 drug deal with an international crime syndicate. When money comes flowing through the streets, the sharks open their mouths and chew up whatever is between them and the score.
A project of such magnitude and ambition is a very rare thing in the crime fiction landscape. Martin Stanley went through great pains to portray the cannibalizing effect of sudden money input on the underworld. Head turn and gangsters go in, risking life and limb, turning against each other for a slice of the score. I loved how nobody really took a responsible stance towards Liam's endeavors. Nobody questioned themselves to what could be behind such a bold move. It's the kind of dog eat dog mentality that characterizes criminal thinking and Martin Stanley captured that reckless, mindless spin of violence very well. Sometimes a little too well.
The flat was now more or less empty. All traces of Omar had been removed, making it look as if he had decided to do a midnight flit and run away. His money, his clothes, his passports, his whole life had either been taken or burnt. All that was left was the furniture, the phone and the television.
Readers thirsting for a non-stop, balls-to-the-wall action novel will enjoy the hell out of THE GAMBLERS. Personally, I thought it was a bit too intense for me, in the sense that it stunted characters' growth. Martin Stanley's cast is always so busy surviving in the concret jungle, you never really get a good grasp of who they are, exception made of Kandinsky, who has a beautiful, desperate scene to himself at the very beginning. Even when they talk, the characters of THE GAMBLERS are so immersed in business, they kind of blended with one another after a while, and I didn't know who to root for. I rooted for Liam on principle because he was ambitious and made things happen, but I wasn't sure if I was supposed to root for anybody at all.
I liked THE GAMBLERS, for it is a novel that fully assumes what it is trying to be. Martin Stanley wanted to create a British crime epic and despite the color being a bit faded, it carries its point home with absolute confidence. It's quite a commitment to read (over 500 pages), but it's a good companion to have while traveling (read the book on a flash weekend road trip) or during the cold winter nights. Reading, for me, is all about atmosphere and it was THE GAMBLERS' weakness, yet I appreciated its spectacular scope and its capacity to sustain a wicked pace for such a ridiculous length. If you're looking for action and trouble to warm you up this Fall, THE GAMBLERS is an interesting place to start.