The Poker Club, by Ed Gorman, originally published as a limited and signed edition hardcover by Cemetery Dance in 1999, is an expansion of Gorman’s sleek novella, “Out There in the Darkness” published in 1995. It is the story of four poker buddies whose lives go sideways when a burglar interrupts their weekly game. The men’s fear and anger, heightened by a rash of burglaries and property crimes in their middle-class neighborhood, boils over and the burglar finishes the night dead. Instead of calling the police, the four friends dump the burglar’s body in a river and try to move on, but then the late night calls start, and the men find themselves knocking on the doors of the criminal class.
The Poker Club is a suspense novel propelled by the amplifying effect of the primary characters’ fear-based decisions. These decisions—we’ll call the police after we’ve scared the burglar, no one will ever know he was here—isolate the men, in quick succession, from their families, their neighborhood, and ultimately, from each other. The plotting is straight-forward and without any real surprises, which is okay because the novel’s power is emotion. The men are pushed into decisions (and actions) most middle-class men never see. They face the prospect of losing their reputations, their professions—and with this, the loss of their lifestyles—their families, and, perhaps, their lives. It is more psychological and character-driven than action and it works pretty well.
The Poker Club is dedicated, in part, to Richard Matheson and it’s a good fit. The depiction of suburban middle-class America as a comfortable and safe place before it transforms into something less friendly, almost nefarious, is similar to Matheson’s brilliant novel, Stir of Echoes. The Poker Club was translated into a tolerable low-budget film directed by Tim McCann and starring Johnathon Schaech.