Book Review – The Counter

by john on March 27, 2003

Next up in a small line of gambling related reviews is The Counter by Kevin Blackwood. A top blackjack player and card counter, Blackwood has written a brilliant debut novel that sucks you into the world of a card counter and doesn’t let you go until it spits you out in the final satisfying chapter.

The protagonist here is Raven Townsend, a college student stuck in Maine who, despite a Baptist upbringing, decides that the answer in his life is to win a million dollars playing blackjack. To do that he becomes a student of the art of card-counting and the book follows his adventures as he goes around the country learning what it means to try to beat the casino’s at their own game. As Raven explains, “The way I play it isn’t gambling.

The author’s first-hand knowledge of blackjack and card counting is evident throughout the book. He also takes us into many real and fictional casinos around the country, a few of which I’ve toiled at myself. This is the sort of stuff that other authors just can’t achieve through research – only with years and years in the trenches can one write about blackjack as Blackwood does. What blackjack player can’t relate when Raven throws more money after more money on those make it or break it double-downs?

In my review of Dice Angel I suggested that in order to achieve the perfect 5 star rating it would need to contain more craps. Well, The Counter provides a ton of blackjack – enough so that if everything else were perfect it would get my highest rating. But Blackwood makes too much of an attempt to tie in his religious beliefs and I think that it distracts from the flow of the book, so I can’t give it top marks. The morality shown by Raven’s love interest Cynthia just struck me as out of place and I wonder if some of it wasn’t the author’s guilt for his time spent toiling in the casinos. In any case I was able to enjoy the book immensely despite these occasional forays away from the gambling.

Perhaps most distracting from the book was Raven’s decision to start using electrical devices which clearly moved him from the realm of a Counter living on his own skill to a cheat. Of course this led to some important plot elements but it was clear from the book’s description of the Atlantic City casinos that it didn’t need to have happened as those casinos could not kick card counters out. So why didn’t Raven just apply his skill there? It didn’t make sense to me and it bugged me until the end of the book. Not so much so though that I can’t recommend the book.

Kevin Blackwood has hit the mark with The Counter – a fast-paced page turner with believable characters and authentic gambling sequences that are befitting of a real-world blackjack expert. Recommended.

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