Gambling is one of those things I love to study but never participate in. I have compulsive tendencies and I understand fully how screwed I would be if I ever gambled. I admire gambling from afar and my two biggest unrequited crushes are Poker and Las Vegas. Tim Power’s 1996 epic, Last Call, deals with both subjects, throws in the Tarot, and then adds a cast of insane characters who are actually quite normal by Las Vegas standards.
The main character, Scott, has a really bad father who has assumed the role of the Fisher King of Las Vegas by killing the former magical Fisher King, Bugsy Siegel. Scott escapes his father at a young age, gets raised by a wonderful superstitious gambler, and then fucks up his life to the point that the only thing that can save him is confronting his father who is going to forcefully possess Scott’s body next Easter anyway if Scott does nothing. Along the way, Scott finds out that the Tarot is alive in every deck of cards, that multiple people want to be the Fisher King and Scott could be of use to them, and that his long lost foster sister might be the living incarnation of the Moon card.
This is a book where every other character knows just enough magic to get in trouble. This is a book where the cards of an ordinary playing deck can be terrifying. This is a book where Vegas is both a magical wonderland and a horrific haunted city.
Ultimately, this is a book about desperateness and schemes which I think is the intersection of magic and gambling. Both hobbies can be destructive and both hobbies are equally filled with people who claim to be the masters of the hobby but are often the biggest victims. As much as this book makes magic and gambling out to be wonderful, it also works hard to remind you that magic and gambling are fickle as fuck and will ruin you.
I love this book but my only warning to readers is that this is a book that never fully explains the rules of what is happening. If you need concrete explanations, prepare to be lost for most of this book. Much like a real casino, this book keeps a lot of things in the background to make sure you the reader never understand how stacked the odds really are.