Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"No House Limit" by Steve Fisher

"My apologies Mr. Bello. Yes, I know who you are. And the limit is off to you, of course. You can play it your way."

Joe Martin owns the Rainbow’s End, the biggest and best casino on the Las Vegas strip. In fact, the Rainbow’s End is the last independent casino the strip, the only joint not controlled by the syndicate. Of course, the syndicate has its eye on the Rainbow’s End. The fact that Joe recently treated an unruly mobster to a one way trip out into the desert has not helped the situation.

No House Limit begins with Joe and his top security man, Sprig, on high alert watching for the syndicate’s inevitable attack on the Rainbow’s End. Rumors have been flying through town that something big was going down. Joe and Sprig quickly discover the syndicate’s first salvo in the form of some fake chips being passed in the pit. They know that the fake chips are only a diversion for what surely will come.

Sure enough, that night the biggest gambler in the world, Bello, checks into the Rainbows End. Bello heads for the craps table. In a fantastic passage Bello calls for Joe and asks him to take all betting limits off the table. Although Joe knows that Bello represents the main thrust of the syndicate’s attack, the unspoken rules of the gambling world obligate him to remove the limits from the table and give Bello a chance to gamble for the Rainbow’s End itself.

Although the principle storyline in No House Limit revolves around Bello and Joe’s mano a mano duel at the craps table, it is by no means the only thing happening. Steve Fisher loved Las Vegas and No House Limit is his ode to the casinos, the lifestyle and the cast of characters that defined Vegas in the 50s. They are all here, high rollers, glamorous dames, entertainers, showgirls, hard luck cases and weirdos. Of course, there are a couple of leading ladies as well. Sunny Guido, a schoolteacher that is unusual enough in Vegas to catch Joe Martin’s attention, and Bello’s girl Dee who catches the eye of the casino’s piano player, Mal Davis.

No House Limit is a very entertaining read. Not only does Fisher paint a loving picture of 1950s Vegas, he keeps you guessing about the characters’ motives and wondering if Joe or the syndicate will come out on top. Moreover, Fisher’s characters are fleshed out very well making the novel spring to life. In the Afterward to the Hard Case Crime edition, Steve Fisher’s son, Michael, notes that many of the characters are based upon real-life friends of his father. There are shades of Humphrey Bogart in Joe Martin and Bello resembles real-life gambler Nick the Greek.

Steve Fisher was a prolific writer of novels, short stories and screenplays. Hard Case Crime has done him proud by selecting No House Limit for republication in its excellent line of crime and noir novels. This was my first exposure to Fisher’s work and very much left me with a taste for more.


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