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Balling The Jack: Book Review

January 29, 2009

Balling the Jack
Frank Baldwin
Simon and Schuster
July 1998
268 pages

Tom Reasons is a gambler. He chafes at his dull job as a Wall Street paralegal. He thinks about Lisa, his ex, more than he’s willing to admit. And every Friday night, he gambles his entire paycheck. If he wins, he wins big. It’s a week of concerts, buying rounds for his friends, chasing women. If he loses, it’s a week of ramen, and looking forward to the next week.
When, a drunken bet lands him on the wrong side of Joe Duggan, the snarling Irish captain of the Hellions, a rival darts team from Hell’s Kitchen, the stakes and stress are higher than Tom could have imagined. Raising the money, dreading a rematch with the Hellions, and trying to convince Lisa to come back turns into a massive adventure through New York’s bar scene and even some of the city’s darkest elements.

The adventure of this book is great fun. Entire chapters read like an in-joke or a love letter to New York city’s Irish bar scene. Names are changed just enough to be decoded with a knowing grin, if you’ve ever played darts, or quaffed a pint of Guinness in a New York city bar. A band called “The Coffin Ships” is absolutely not Black 47. We promise. A few readers might have fun decoding and placing the various bars in Tom Reason’s adventures, from the slight descriptions offered in the fast-paced prose.
But- even if you have never been to New York and have no idea how to score a game of 501 or Cricket, take a gamble on this book. At times, Tom Reasons, smug and slightly immature, comes off like a bit of a selfish jerk. But, as the stakes get higher, he’s just panicked enough to turn sympathetic and human. And yes, some of the plot twists are predictable. But it’s a heck of a fun ride, full of excellent characters and a bit of suspense. It’s almost as much fun to read this as it is to spend a night out, with friends, throwing a few darts and having a few beers.

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