221 pages. Originally published 1971; republished 2006 by Hard Case.
Donald E. Westlake wrote under his real name, as well as under a number of pseudonyms. As 'Richard Stark', he is best known for his stories involving the relentless and remorseless professional thief Parker and his accomplices. This book, however, features another character in the 'Parker' universe: Alan Grofield.
Grofield features in four Stark novels, and appears in four others. Grofield's passion is the stage, and he owns and operates a summer theater out in Indiana. To pay the bills, he works as a professional thief. In a previous novel, Alan met and fell in love with Mary Deegan; she is now his wife and manages the theater when he is away on business.
As the novel begins, Grofield is flying into Las Vegas for a meeting about a proposed operation. (He plays the slot machine at the airport – that's where the title comes from.) He's been brought in by Dan Leach. The organizer, Andrew Myers, is a friend of Leach's brother. Two others, strangers to Grofield, also are in the meeting, as is Myer's bodyguard.
Unfortunately, the meeting goes sour. Grofield is a professional. Myers has grandiose plans about knocking over a brewery, but he is obviously an amateur. Grofield walks out of the meeting, and Dan follows him. Not to make the entire trip a waste, they hit the casino before returning to their separate rooms.
They kicked the lock off the door and came in with their hands full of shotguns. Two of them, in black hats and anonymous black raincoats with the collars turned up. Also black handkerchiefs across their faces, like stagecoach robbers.
Who are these people? What are they looking for? (And who's the lady on the book cover, and why is someone about to light a fire?)
As the novel proceeds, Grofield realizes he should never have become involved with Andrew Myers and his insane plans. Trouble just keeps coming. People keep dying. Secrets must be hidden. In the noire tradition, Grofield loses almost everything through no fault of his own, before he realizes what he must do. Along the way, we also get to see the world of a professional thief.
If you like hard-boiled crime novels, this one is hard to beat. There's not a lot here to game, though – professionals avoid gun battles…
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .