In the world of movies, poker is a theme that crops up time and again. Casino Royale, Rounders, The Cincinnati Kid, Molly’s Game, you can probably think of four or five more without having to stretch yourself too much. Ordinarily, the major plot drivers that work in movies also work in books and vice versa. However, there are not so many famous titles that immediately spring to mind.
Of those listed above, only one was adapted from a novel – that was Ian Fleming’s 1953 publication Casino Royale, and that actually centered around a game of baccarat. It was only changed to poker for purposes of the 2006 movie adaptation.
Not to be deterred, however, we have come up with the following poker-themed works of fiction that are definitely worth adding to your reading list if you’ve not yet done so. Even if you don’t know how to play poker, you will be a poker strategy master before you are halfway through them! What others can you think of?
We start with a short story by John Updike that was first published in Esquire magazine in 1984 and has subsequently appeared in a handful of collections. It tells the tale of the typical Updike everyman, an unremarkable and unnamed middle aged family man. His fortnightly poker nights take on new meaning and significance when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Updike uses his trademark literary skills to draw parallels between the protagonist’s desperate situation and his hands of poker.
Oscar and Lucinda
This period piece from Peter Carey is set in the 19th century and won the 1988 Booker Prize. It relates the history of the eponymous couple who come together on a voyage from England to Australia and are united by a shared fascination for the poker table. No Bond-style multi million dollar pots here, just young couple playing penny bets for the love of the game.
Shut Up and Deal: A Novel
Jesse May’s debut novel is a fictionalized autobiography that draws on the authors own experiences as a young slacker with dreams of making it big in the Las Vegas of the 1980s. It’s so realistic, you will be wanting to launder your jacket after reading to get rid of the smell of cigarette smoke and stale whiskey.
The first installment in Tim Powers’ critically acclaimed Fault Lines series is set amid the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas and follows the misadventures of Scott Crane, a luckless professional gambler juggling the combined pressures of a recent bereavement, semi blindness and a pursuer who wants him dead. One last high-stakes poker game will either turn everything around or hasten his downfall.
Dead Man’s Hand: Crime Fiction at the Poker Table
Finally, a compendium of tales that all feature the world’s most popular card game. Edited by Otto Penzler, it includes contribution from Walter Mosley, Laura Lippman, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver and several others. If you enjoy poker and crime fiction, you will be delighted by every one of these tales and the way they weave the two together.
Markus lives in San Francisco, California and is the video game and audio expert on Good e-Reader! He has a huge interest in new e-readers and tablets, and gaming.