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Queen of Spades

Michael Shou-Yung Shum's modern interpretation of Alexander Pushkin's short story "The Queen of Spades" is a meticulously crafted tale that elevates the art of gambling to the metaphysical.
 
Shum follows the lives of one woman and three men who work at the Royal Casino: Arturo Chan, a new arrival in town who successfully auditions and earns a position as a poker dealer; Stephen Mannheim, the pit boss diagnosed with terminal dementia who hires Chan; Sam Chimsky, high-limit salon dealer with a large gambling debt to a local bookie; and Chimsky's ex-wife, Barbara, a former addict trying to maintain sobriety through a 12-step program even as Chimsky tests her willpower. The temptress whose path crosses with the four is the mysterious Countess, a wealthy gambler of the Royal whose mathematical precision at faro draws the four together. Her nightly presence at the high-limits salon becomes Chan's single-minded obsession and Chimsky's downfall.

Shum devised the plot based on his own experiences as a dealer and on the stories told to him by a fellow pit dealer, who in 1984 dealt one of the most impressive hands of faro in the 20th century. Shum writes with precision, but it is his power of observation that transforms Queen of Spades into a deeper rumination on avarice, willpower and the uncomfortable alliances forged at the gambling table. Games of chance become the canvas on which Shum examines the internal battle among personal motivation, personal redemption and despair.

Queen of Spades is an intelligent and engrossing debut. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant