Publication Date: October 10, 2012
In Dead Man’s Hand by Luke Murphy, Calvin Watters is a former college football star who was badly injured and turned to debt collecting (the kind of debt collecting where they pay or lose a toe) for a bookie in Vegas to make ends meet. When a big-time casino owner is killed, Calvin is the natural suspect. Dayle Dayton, a detective with the Las Vegas Police Department, isn’t sure that Calvin is guilty and is willing to give him a shot at finding the real killer. Complicating matters is the hit out on Calvin and his girlfriend. Can Calvin survive the game and clear his name?
For a novel from a first-time writer, Dead Man’s Hand is outstanding. It had some problems with over-explanation and plotting, but if you had given me this novel and not have said anything about the author, I’d think that Luke Murphy had been writing for years. The characters are detailed and the storyline takes twists and turns like that of pros. There’s nothing wrong with Dead Man’s Hand. So why didn’t I like this novel?
Murphy has either done a great deal of research or had a great deal of life experience. As a former pro hockey player, I would imagine that Murphy has had experiences with the sort of injury that Calvin has sustained, whether it is his own injury or teammates’ injury. Calvin’s dilemma is explained in too much detail not to be believed. Murphy gives us information through dialogue, but it’s almost like turning on a radio commercial … You know the department gives you a yearly allowance for weapons! Go with something newer, something sleeker!” (Not a quote from the novel). At the start of the novel, Calvin is collecting a debt and the lengths to which he’s gone to just injure a toe seem way out there. I know there’s the intimidation factor, but the man is tied to a seat and wetting himself. If you’ve gone to the trouble to abduct him, it just seems that you’d do a bit more.
It wasn’t until reading a few other reviews that I realized the problem I likely have with this novel. Trax23 says, “The writing style of Murphy is similar to Patterson, but that’s where the comparison ends.” Murphy’s writing style could be called worse than the like of James Patterson. Patterson is a highly successful author who really fits, on paper, into the wheelhouse of what I like to read, but I just cannot get into his novels. Is it the short chapters? Is it that, like Patterson, Murphy was a journalist and the feeling of the text can be very “reporting the news” so that the reader feels like they are reading a book of someone reading a book? At the risk of sounding strange, there’s passion in the text but it completely centers around Calvin and doesn’t encompass any of the other characters. Because of the feeling of displacement with the characters, Calvin was the only character with whom I really connected. Lots of people like Patterson and lots will like Murphy as well if they give him a shot.
Dead Man’s Hand is fast-paced and graphic (without hitting an edge too far) filled with raw characters. The plot does take turns that the reader won’t see coming. I will not say this often, but this is one novel you will have to ignore what I think and give it a try for yourself. It didn’t work for me, but it’s a good writing job that should be out there and should be read. In terms of stars, for me, this would be a three-star novel while for my Dad it might earn all five. I’m going to send it to his Kindle and hopefully update in the coming weeks about what he thought.
Read an excerpt and buy Dead Man’s Hand by Luke Murphy on