By Michael Kardos


The Mysterious Press | $26.00
April 3, 2018


Review by Janet Brantley

Bluff, by Michael Kardos, gave me pause. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, the final act, but I didn’t. I was so stunned by it that it’s taken me a while to write this review. I had to distance myself from the action to realize just how good this book is, what a satisfying story Kardos has told.

Bluff is the first-person account of a gifted young magician who, at twenty-seven, seems to be going nowhere fast. After dazzling the world of magic a decade earlier, Natalie Webb is trying to convince herself and everyone else she’s ready for a comeback. Unfortunately, one of her simple card tricks goes awry and she is soon fending off a lawsuit that seems destined to drive her all the way into the poor house.

Enter Ellen—another woman who can do amazing things with her hands, this time at the poker table—with an offer Natalie can’t afford to refuse. Together the two women will infiltrate a high-stakes poker game and come away with a cool million dollars. All Natalie must do is turn her back on everything she loves about being a magician—and become a card cheat of the highest order.

Kardos does a masterful job of taking us inside two always intriguing worlds—magic in all its glamorous sleight-of-hand intrigue on the one hand, and extreme card playing on the other.

Speaking of hands, Natalie’s are magical. At least that’s what onlookers like her new attorney, Brock, believe. It’s hard for him to accept that she won’t tell him her card secrets, but when she carries out the explanation in her mind (“…learning the palms and passes and false shuffles…over many years and thousands of hours…until…you’d be fooled from a foot away”), we fully understand and are somewhat offended ourselves when he offers her $100 for the secret.

Bluff revolves around Natalie’s hands, from first page to last. What starts out as a seemingly innocent series of encounters become, over time, a dark and sinister look into a game of bluff gone terribly wrong. The denouement gives new meaning to the term “all in.” Surprisingly, Natalie perseveres, and though she’s not in the best of places at the end of the book, we are able to classify her as a survivor who can make the best of a bad (horrible, really) situation.

Kardos has left the door open for a sequel. If he writes one, I will certainly read it.