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The Ballad of a Small Player: A Novel (original 2014; edition 2015)

by Lawrence Osborne (Author)

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Member:adamtyoung
Title:The Ballad of a Small Player: A Novel
Authors:Lawrence Osborne (Author)
Info:Hogarth (2015), 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Ballad of a Small Player: A Novel by Lawrence Osborne (2014)

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The Ballad of a Small Player (2014) is a novel of contemporary western China, in Macau’s gilded gambling casinos. “Lord” Doyle is an expatriate barrister from London. Doyle thinks of himself as a long term loser personality and an obsessive gambler against luck. The ironic title of Lord has been given to Doyle by the Chinese hotel and casinos staff because of his good suits, yellow gambling gloves, and “quai lo” (Caucasian) airs of royalty he maintains while losing more money than he wins. Wealth that Doyle embezzled and absconded with from London gives him immunity from overt scorn by the Chinese gamblers and staff. Doyle’s self-hatred is mitigated by his identification with Taoists’ concept of “preta” described in English as “Hungry Ghosts.” These poor souls are awaiting reincarnation to a better life existing indefinitely in the equivalent of Christian hell. The hungry ghosts are burdened by a tremendous appetite for food, drink, and other sensory pleasures that cannot be satisfied except during the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Doyle sees himself as a denizen of the casinos in his seventh month.

The novel is an interesting character study and maintains a consistently gloomy mood against a background of huge glitzy rooms. The depressive views of Doyle are symptomatic of what we call gambling “addiction” in the West. In the East, however, the Chinese call the predictable addictive behavior “luck,” that Doyle associates with the I Ching. Caught between two cultural views, Doyle plays a type of Baccarat that involves no player skill, only a turning of the cards and counting numbers. He casts his fate to the wind every night expecting to lose with no basis for his anticipation. Seeing himself as a loser, Doyle claims that once a loser always one. As an addict, Doyle is a hungry ghost who has selected specific self-destructive behaviors because of his immutable loser personality. Instead of the Western explanation that an addiction overcomes one, the Eastern description is that all past and present living factors (including guilt) have influenced one to pick his individual unreachable “pleasure.”

This is the second good novel of the Orient by Lawrence Osborne I have read. Hunters in the Dark will be published in January 2016. I give this novel my highest rating ( )
  GarySeverance | Nov 20, 2015 |
Lord Doyle is a gambler, a big gambler.He is a former lawyer with an unsavory past who has reinvented himself in Macau as a kid glove wearing "white ghost". This story is about money and morality and it is very sly. So sly in fact that if you blink you might miss it. Lawrence Osbourne introduces some artfully memorable characters in the form of Grandma, an older gambling, wronged wife who prefers to lose and Dao-Ling, an enigmatic, spiritual country call girl. Osbourne weaves Doyle's desperation and decadence in with the mysticism of the east and you can't help but find yourself rooting for him at the tables, rooting for his very soul. This is a story that clicks at the end and you find yourself wanting to turn back to the first page. "At midnight on Mondays,..." Just don't blink.

Provided by publisher ( )
  hfineisen | Mar 6, 2015 |
12/7/2014 11:35 AM NYTimes top 100 pick that seems intriguing.
  ntgntg | Dec 7, 2014 |
L.A. Review of Books
The China Blog
The Book the China Crowd Missed – Lawrence Osborne’s The Ballad of a Small Player
January 14, 2015
By Paul French

Every so often, a novel that captures the essence and flavors of the modern China experience is published — yet seemingly totally escapes the attentions of the devoted China reading crowd. They praise and discuss, absorb and dissect other, often distinctly inferior, novels, while Lawrence Osborne’s The Ballad of a Small Player has attracted no attention and fallen through the cracks of the Sinology drain. Yet Osborne has written an acutely observed novel detailing one part of the contemporary China experience and he deserves to be widely read. In fact, I’m going to just go right on and out and say it — Osborne’s novel is the best on contemporary China since Malraux’s Man’s Fate (which, rather depressingly, means we might have to wait another 80 years for the next one!)

Macau, the former Portuguese colony off the coast of southern China, is a distinctly little written-about place. It deserves more. In the 1930s, Macau gained a reputation for sin and wickedness, epithets that have long lingered over the place. The American noir writer Sherwood King wrote If I Die Before I Wake in 1938. The book became the basis for the Orson Welles-Rita Hayworth film The Lady From Shanghai in 1947. In the novel, Elsa Bannister, a White Russian of dubious reputation, born of refugees in Chefoo, on the China coast, explains her past: “Chefoo is the second wickedest city of earth.” The first? “Macau,” she exclaims, without a moment’s hesitation. Auden and Isherwood agreed. Visiting in 1938, Auden wrote in his sonnet Macau (included in their 1939 travelogue of their joint China trip, Journey to a War):



A weed from Catholic Europe, it took root …

And grew on China imperceptibly …

Churches beside the brothels testify …

That faith can pardon natural behaviour.

During the war, as a Portuguese colony, Macau remained neutral and a haven for smugglers, adventurers, and pirates. Afterwards, the colony got right on back to its traditions of gambling and sin. James Bond creator Ian Fleming arrived in 1959 to report on the enclave for The Sunday Times and research his book Thrilling Cities (eventually published in 1964). He encountered gamblers, prostitutes, and the model for his character of Goldfinger (probably written on the plane home and published in 1959), a certain Pedro José Lobo.

The movies saw Macau as a festering pit of corruption and the dissolute. French writer Jean Delannoy captured pre-war Macau’s seediness and lost souls in his 1938 novel Macau – L’enfer de jeu (Gambling Hell in English). The beautiful Parisian starlet Mireille Balin smoldered wantonly in the movie version with Erich von Stroheim in 1939. Josef von Sternberg returned to the Far East as a setting (having done Shanghai with Dietrich two decades previously in Shanghai Express) for his 1952 movie Macau with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. Von Sternberg, and his co-director Nicholas Ray, showed the place as hopelessly Orientalist noir, a vision that’s still around.

But since then Lisbon has handed back Macau to Beijing and the old casinos of the Lisboa and other numerous Fan-Tan parlors have been Las Vegas-ed and come to outshine even Nevada gaming houses in terms of revenues. Want to know by how much? Consider this — in 2013, one Macau casino, the Galaxy, raked in US $38 billion in revenues, more than six times that of the entire Las Vegas Strip. A handy little earner for the Party, though the unwholesome reputation has stuck — no anodyne family-themed entertainment for Macau, thank you very much. It’s a place that knows what it does and does it to excess: gambling. The mainland Chinese have poured out of coaches on day trips from Guangzhou with fat rolls of renminbi that may or may not be kosher; the high rollers have landed their private jets at Macau International Airport and been whooshed by tinted-window Rolls Royce to the VIP rooms on the top floors of The Galaxy, The Venetian, or The Cotai Strip; Bond came to visit in Skyfall. But literature has largely left Macau alone.

Lawrence Osborne goes a long way to correcting this omission. The Ballad of a Small Player follows “Lord Doyle,” an Englishman with a chequered and criminal past (nothing glamorous — just robbing old ladies with dementia of their life savings) holed up in Macau’s casinos and hotels, gambling away his ill-gotten gains playing Baccarat punto blanco (China’s favored version of Baccarat and, as Osborne notes, “that slutty dirty queen of casino card games.”). Lord Doyle slowly slips into oblivion and bankruptcy — Lady Luck has done a bunk. For those who know Macau, the landmarks all make an appearance — the Lisboa, Clube Militar, Fernando’s Restaurante — but it’s also the novel that most atmospherically, and accurately, captures the neon haze of the Macau gambling addict’s night-time-only card-obsessed miasma. It’s a midnight stroll through the strip from the garish architecture of the new Asian-money casinos, the relics of the old Macau with the ashtrays piled high and the chicken bones discarded on the floor next to the still-active spittoons in the lobby of the old-school Lisboa, the micro-managed pits of the super professional American casino operators at The Sands and Wynn Macau.

If you’ve ever done Macau properly (not the tourist Stations of the Cross at Leal Senado Square, A-Ma Temple, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, but really … properly … done it), you’ll instantly appreciate Osborne’s milieu. The insane lure of the tables, the call of the pits, the highest high of betting on the turn of a card and winning (Baccarat punto blanco is a high-risk win-all/lose-all game), the crashing low of losing, watching a mini-mountain of chips either shoveled your way or swished aside by a discreet croupier into some other bastard’s pocket. All followed by sinking into food at Fernando’s or high-priced, but large-measure, drinks in the bar at The Venetian. And then giving it a final go before sunup and maybe, just maybe, coming out even and getting a great night’s sleep bathed in the early morning’s harsh sunlight through the hotel bedroom window. The casinos are everything in Macau — cathedrals for the dissolute who value only money, risk, and chance. There are many, many of us, if we’re lucky enough and can rustle together a few patacas, who simply cannot resist it. We will be Osborne’s most avid and knowing readers.

For the less tempted. Those blessed with the ability to leave their wallets in their hotel rooms, put their credit cards in the in-room safe, and simply wander through the gaming halls and observe the tables and the pits like the acrophobics who gather at ground level to watch roller-coasters and trapeze artists, this novel takes you into the minds of those you see sitting, chain-smoking, comped with Champagne, feasting on tid-bits served at the table to stop you walking away and thinking better of your folly. The players. It’s also the story of those you don’t see — the high rollers in the VIP rooms you won’t ever get to sniff. From the start we are plunged into this Macau:

At midnight on Mondays, or a little after, I arrive at the Greek Mythology in Taipa, where I play on those nights when I have nowhere else to go, when I am tired of Fernando’s and the Clube Militar and the little brothel hotels on Republicca. I like it there because there are no Chinese TV stars and because they know me by sight. It is one of the older casinos, archaic and run-down. Its woodwork reeks of smoke, and its carpets have a sweet rancid sponginess that my English shoes like. I go there every other weekend night or so, losing a thousand a week from my Inexhaustible Fund. I go there to scatter my yuan, my dollars, my kwai, and losing there is easier than winning, more gratifying. It’s more like winning than winning itself, and everyone knows you are not a real player until you secretly prefer losing.

Sadly, Graham Greene, a man those old-time, down-and-dirty casinos were made for, never made it to Macau (he wanted to, but his mistress at the time declined the invitation). Osborne is a worthy successor. Lord Doyle crashes and jumps the hydrofoil to Hong Kong, where again he slips into the humid neon haze of Tsim Sha Tsui and the trippy hippy retreat of Lamma Island’s more drop-out side. Back in Macau, on a make-or-break gambling orgy, Lord Doyle must win or become a beggar. Osborne details the irrational exuberance of the addicted gambler, the sure belief that the cards will come out right, the chips will pile up, the luck will turn, even as the opposite occurs. The cards are opium, booze, and sex all rolled into one — a massive dopamine hit to the neurotransmitters.

Osborne gets the small stuff, those little, seemingly casually discarded descriptions that morph into a clear picture. In Macau it’s the tangy cigarette smoke of Zhongnanhai’s, the oily grubbiness and sweaty paraffin smell of the used yuan notes, the cheap white pleather boots of the Mongolian prostitutes. It all adds up, along with Lord Doyle’s insane life-or-death binge at the tables, to a magnificent short novel that captures the hype and hope, the seediness and despair of modern day Macau.

Ultimately, gambling is usually a metaphor. The ups and downs; good luck, bad luck … I’m not totally sure what the metaphor is in the case of The Ballad of a Small Player. Faustian bargains are certainly made, as they routinely are at card tables. It could all be partly a dream; maybe an opium-induced illusion. You could make an argument that gambling is a metaphor for China’s rise, as Lord Doyle learns in Macau, “when you are on a roll you must roll and roll…” But then when you get a roll in life you’ve really got no choice but to roll and roll too … until you crash, and then you’re really tested — Lord Doyle, China, you, me.

-----------------------------------------
Adrian Turpin
The Literary Review
Smelling a Baccarat

In the casinos of Macau, a corrupt English solicitor masquerading as 'Lord Doyle' burns through a pile of stolen cash. His game of choice is punto banco, a version of baccarat requiring no skill, so his future lies in the hands of either mathematical chance or the supernatural. Which is it? The question will literally haunt the protagonist of Lawrence Osborne's new novel. In turn, Doyle will cast an increasingly spectral shadow on those around him. It is no coincidence that Cantonese slang for foreigner is gwai lo, which translates as 'ghost person'.

Osborne's exceptional 2013 novel, The Forgiven, portrayed a group of decadent Westerners partying in the Moroccan desert, to the distaste of the locals. The Ballad of a Small Player is similarly fascinated by clashing cultures. But where The Forgiven drew comparisons with Paul Bowles and Evelyn Waugh, it is to Graham Greene that his new book owes most debts.

The Ballad of a Small Player shares the exoticism and East-West disconnect of The Quiet American, the unresolved supernaturalism of The Heart of the Matter and Loser Takes All's bittersweet relationship with the gaming tables. If Osborne's book is a love letter to gambling, it's the kind written at 3am to an indifferent ex after an evening at the bar - an ode to self-destruction. 'Everyone knows you are not a real player unless you secretly prefer losing,' Doyle observes.

In fact, a desire to lose turns out to be the least of Doyle's secrets. Osborne's 'fraud lord' is a triumph of self-invention, as fabulously ersatz as the fake Gainsboroughs lining the casino walls. The provincial solicitor, son of a vacuum-cleaner salesman, has become the Krug-drinking high-roller in trademark yellow kid gloves. Disguise is necessary after embezzling the life savings of an elderly widow. The nature of the transformation and of the crime, however, suggests acts of psychic revenge upon an England of low horizons, warm beer and provincial snobbery.

As charismatic a narrator as he is unreliable, Doyle deftly courts the reader's sympathy: he is a player in more than one sense. But not everyone can be played. At the tables, Doyle encounters a young Chinese woman, Dao-Ming. The reader is given hints that she may in some way personify fortune. 'I'm not a whore,' she says, after Doyle takes her to a hotel room.

Whatever the case, Doyle's steady decline into penury soon becomes a dizzying ascent, a streak of improbable wins proving more disconcerting than any losses. Buffeted by forces seemingly beyond his control, he takes on the appearance of what Buddhism calls a 'hungry ghost', a spirit trapped in a purgatory of insatiable appetite.

Do we believe such superstition? For those who prefer not to, the narrator's drinking suggests an alternative explanation. Likewise, fortune may be seen as simply an accident of circumstance, such as being born a peasant like Dao-Ming, or of personality. Doyle himself observes that 'addiction is fate': to implode requires no otherworldly intervention.

Osborne's novel is a brisk, electrifying read, as elegant in negotiating the rackety world it depicts as its bow-tied narrator. It offers a love story of sorts, an account of addiction, a black comedy of (largely bad) manners and a fly-on-the-roulette-wheel portrait of Macau's fantastically kitsch casinos.

The most ambiguous, and therefore the most enjoyable, kind of ghost story, the book clutches its central enigmas hard to itself. A second reading reveals quite how cannily Lawrence Osborne has set rational and supernatural interpretations against each other, as he turns the screw on his readers. Even then, The Ballad of a Small Player remains elusive, and is all the better for that.
--------------------------------------------------​--------------------------------------------------​

"With its ex-pat angst and debauched air of moral ambiguity set amid the sinister demi-monde of the Far East's corrupt gambling dens, Osborne's darkly introspective study of decline and decay conjures apt comparisons to Paul Bowles, Graham Greene, and V. S. Naipaul." - Booklist

"The Ballad of a Small Player is a short novel, but in its small space it manages to be even more atmospherically gripping and morally hazy than The Forgiven. Where that novel was driven by the excitement of a moral thriller, The Ballad of a Small Player evokes, very differently, the spectral, tenebrous mood of John Fowles' The Magus or Arthur Schniztler's Dream Story. The most exciting thing about this slippery, deceptive novel that is, right up until its last page, you are left deliciously uncertain as to exactly what kind of story you are reading...The writing is both sensuous and finely tuned...(a) darkly fascinating work of fiction." - The London Sunday Times

"Damn. Another writer I have to care about. After a certain age, it’s as irksome to add to the list of writers one reads as it is to add to one’s circle of friends. For most of his career, Lawrence Osborne gave the impression of being someone I could safely ignore. He wrote a novel in his youth that went the way of most first novels before carving out a career as a travel writer and wine connoisseur, but then in his 50s something jolted him into writing another novel, “The Forgiven,” about Westerners partying on the edge of the North African desert, which turned out to be dark, brilliant and about as ­ignorable as a ­switchblade.Now he’s written a third novel, and on every other page there’s an image that catches the eye or sticks in the mind: “She handled them in the way that a buyer in a market will handle small fish before buying them.” That’s a woman betting on a hand of baccarat. What’s great about those fish, apart from the way their size makes them so easy to flip, is the fear that they may go bad, just like a hand of cards. And how quickly they turn, too. You see? How can you hang on to your indifference in the face of a simile like that?...The Ballad of a Small Player” forgoes Osborne’s gifts of social satire but retains his sense of dread and gift for gimlet-eyed metaphor: that old crone’s face “like an overripe peach, furred and uneven”; a gambler on his way to the table “like a raccoon on its way to a Dumpster”; a casino interior like “some Hans Christian Andersen fairy palace imagined by a small child with a high fever.” That’s not a bad description of the book itself, a vivid and feverish portrait of a soul in self-inflicted purgatorio." - Tom Shone, The New York Times Book Review

"A searing portrait of addiction and despair set in the glittering world of Macau's casinos.... the novel's energetic portrait of the highs and lows of a gambler's fortunes are as good as anything in the literature of addiction. Osborne's intriguing Chinese milieu and exquisite prose mark this work as a standout." - Publisher's Weekly, starred review

"The beauty of this novel is in the elegance and precision of its prose, which renders the glaring kitsch of Macau into a series of exquisite miniatures, and draws on Osborne's reserves as a travel writer." - The Guardian

"Osborne masterfully recreates the atmosphere of casinos as well as the psychology of baccarat players—and leaves readers eager to try their luck at the game." - Kirkus Reviews

“Osborne’s The Forgiven, an Economist Best Book of the Year (and one of my personal Bests from last year, too), is as brilliant, unsentimental a rendering of contemporary East-West conflict and the imperfect human psyche as you are likely to find. His new work proceeds in that tradition…Don’t miss.” — Library Journal

"Osborne's exceptional 2013 novel, The Forgiven, portrayed a group of decadent Westerners partying in the Moroccan desert, to the distaste of the locals. The Ballad of a Small Player is similarly fascinated by clashing cultures. But where The Forgiven drew comparisons with Paul Bowles and Evelyn Waugh, it is to Graham Greene that his new book owes most debts.The Ballad of a Small Player shares the exoticism and East-West disconnect of The Quiet American, the unresolved supernaturalism of The Heart of the Matter and Loser Takes All's bittersweet relationship with the gaming tables. If Osborne's book is a love letter to gambling, it's the kind written at 3am to an indifferent ex after an evening at the bar - an ode to self-destruction. 'Everyone knows you are not a real player unless you secretly prefer losing,' Doyle observes. In fact, a desire to lose turns out to be the least of Doyle's secrets. Osborne's 'fraud lord' is a triumph of self-invention, as fabulously ersatz as the fake Gainsboroughs lining the casino walls. The provincial solicitor, son of a vacuum-cleaner salesman, has become the Krug-drinking high-roller in trademark yellow kid gloves. Disguise is necessary after embezzling the life savings of an elderly widow. The nature of the transformation and of the crime, however, suggests acts of psychic revenge upon an England of low horizons, warm beer and provincial snobbery. As charismatic a narrator as he is unreliable, Doyle deftly courts the reader's sympathy: he is a player in more than one sense...Osborne's novel is a brisk, electrifying read, as elegant in negotiating the rackety world it depicts as its bow-tied narrator. It offers a love story of sorts, an account of addiction, a black comedy of (largely bad) manners and a fly-on-the-roulette-wheel portrait of Macau's fantastically kitsch casinos. The most ambiguous, and therefore the most enjoyable, kind of ghost story, the book clutches its central enigmas hard to itself. A second reading reveals quite how cannily Lawrence Osborne has set rational and supernatural interpretations against each other, as he turns the screw on his readers. Even then, The Ballad of a Small Player remains elusive, and is all the better for that." - Adrian Turpin, The Literary Review

"Lawrence Osborne has invented an original and intriguing character in the other-worldly Dao-Ming. She is a master blend of contradictions as she simultaneously offers up her physical self and slams down tight the grille barring her authentic ego. Lord Doyle, on the other hand, is not unique; no, he is all too common. Doyle is a sad case, pitiable, even tragic, and sometimes deranged, but he is never laughable. This is one of the myriad instances in which this author proves his skill: I cared about Doyle, even in his most abased moments when his addiction has him on the mat; even as he finally went about strategically, deliberately ruining himself. He believes that in his ruination what he truly needs will come back to him. Lawrence Osborne is not just a master at creating complicated human beings, he also excels at immersing you in his environment. Osborne paints Macau and Hong Kong alive with his prose. You can hear the strident mobs in the pits; taste the oolong tea; see the garish pseudo-Roman circus décor of the casinos; smell the stench of the ubiquitous clouds of cheap cigarette smoke; feel the rain soaking your hair as you take the ferry to Hong Kong – it is monsoon season in the South China Sea. But here in the land of the I Ching there is also a sixth sense." - Michelle Newby,

The Ballad of a Small Player is one of the best, and quite possibly the best, East Asian “expat novel” of the past decade. I realize with concern that this may come across as damning with faint praise. The often pejorative “expat fiction”—applied to novels written by, in the main, white visitors to Asia—needn’t necessarily be a term of disdain, for the genre includes such writers as Somerset Maugham, Shirley Hazzard, Graham Greene, Paul Theroux and J.G. Ballard. There is no reason why Hong Kong and its sister city of Macau should not make for as great English-language fiction as such other foreign locales as Berlin or Paris, but despite—or perhaps because of—the Asian cities’ obvious attractions, lightning of the literary kind rarely seems to strike. The results are usually dreary and formulaic processions of bar girls, fast money, deadbeat caucasian males, drugs and crooks. These elements form the basis of The Ballad of a Small Player too, but Osborne—against the odds, one has to say—pulls off a virtuoso performance that isn’t, in the end, about any of those things. What sets the novel apart is not so much the plotting or characterization, but the writing: the elegant prose, the changes of pace, the crisp dialogue and the descriptions that transport the reader into the scene. Those who don’t live in East Asia might read The Ballad of a Small Player for the exoticism of its locales and the descriptions of the extravagant seediness of the Macau casinos. Those who live here know all this, of course. Some will read it voyeuristically no doubt, but others will be transfixed by the way Osborne has turned our corner of the world, and all those things that make it what it is, from humidity to egg tarts and gaudy statues in casino lobbies, into a story that reaches well beyond it.Any “old China hand” thinking of turning his (or these days, her) hand to semi-autobiographical fiction would do well to read this first.Anyone else would do well to read it too." - Peter Gordon, the Asian Review of Books, Hong Kong ( )
  meadcl | Aug 2, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“Lord” Doyle is an English lawyer who steals his elderly clients money and runs away to Macau to gamble obsessively, winning some and losing some.
I found the descriptions of Macau, China and the gambling casinos to be very interesting, but had problems understanding the obsession of gambling and could not develop much sympathy for the main character and the other gamblers. The lifestyle seemed pointless and the story was depressing! ( )
  patmil | May 17, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0770437680, Paperback)

A heartfelt, funny, and all-together human novel about the best mistakes a person can make
 
   Jonathan and Rosie have been together so long they finish each other’s sentences—so when he (finally) proposes and asks her to move across the country with him, everyone is happily surprised.
   But when things suddenly unravel, Rosie sends Jonathan packing and moves back home with Soapie, the irascible, opinionated grandmother who raised her. Only now she has to figure out how to fire Soapie’s very unsuitable caregiver, a gardener named Tony who lets her drink martinis, smoke, and cheat at Scrabble.
It’s a temporary break, of course—until Rosie realizes she’s accidentally pregnant at 44, completely unequipped for motherhood, and worse, may be falling in love with the sentimental, troubled Tony, whose life is even more muddled than hers. 
   It’s not until Rosie learns the truth about her mother’s tragic story that she wonders if sometimes you have to let go of your fears, trusting that the big-hearted, messy life that awaits you may just be the one you were meant to live.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:18 -0400)

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As night falls on Macau and the neon signs that line the rain-slick streets come alive, Doyle - "Lord Doyle" to his fellow players - descends into his casino of choice to try his luck at the baccarat tables that are the anchor of his current existence. A corrupt English lawyer who has escaped prosecution by fleeing to the East, Doyle spends his nights drinking and gambling and his days sleeping off his excesses, continually haunted by his past. Taking refuge in a series of louche and dimly lit hotels, he watches his fortune rise and fall as the cards decide his fate. In a moment of crisis he meets Dao-Ming, an enigmatic Chinese woman who appears to be a denizen of the casinos just like himself, and seems to offer him salvation in the form of both money and love. But as Doyle attempts to make a rare and true connection, all that he accepts as reality seems to be slipping from his grasp.… (more)

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