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by Jane Stanton Hitchcock
Poisoned Pen Press, April 2019
264 pages
ISBN: 1464210683

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

BLUFF by Jane Stanton Hitchcock is a clever mixture of murder and a game of poker. When "Mad Maud" shoots the "Pope of Finance" Sun Sunderland, everyone believes she missed her true target, Burt Sklar. For years, Maud Warner had claimed that Sklar ruined her family, and this was supposed to be her revenge.

There is more to their history than Sklar is telling the police, and slowly but surely, the secrets he thought dead and buried are coming out. Sun Sunderland is hanging by a thread when his wife, Jean, comes to be at his side, only for the other Mrs. Sunderland to make an appearance. With Sklar giving her no choice, Danya Sunderland has a story to tell, and Sklar is desperate to get his truth out there in the hopes that Maud will always be seen as Mad.

On the run, Maud can only wait and watch for justice to follow. With plenty of eye witnesses having seen her, there are few she can rely on to undercut Sklar. But the cards are in Maud's hands, and she is not prepared to fold.

BLUFF was a lovely read with a unique setting and intriguing characters. Written in both first and third person, narratives from the various characters enhanced the experience. Maud speaks in her own voice and from that we can catch a glimpse into her thoughts and emotions as she plays her game. The other characters are written in third person, which provides an excellent introduction into the world of high society. It also makes it easy to switch among the different narratives so that there's no confusion about who is being presented.

Maud puts on a tremendous show and surprised me every time. She is true to her character, a woman who is often invisible because of her age and filled with an incredible passion for vengeance. I only wish that I could have seen more glimpses of her past. It would be a sight to know what she was like before the tragedies in her life rather than having to depend on her second-hand account.

I was fascinated by the high society lifestyle described in the novel. Whether or not it's even a semi-accurate description, it's still everything I imagine the upper-class attitude to be. The gossips who only care about the drama and not the realities of the man's life, the selfishness in the press, and how everyone still believes "it couldn't happen to me" as one of their own is struck down. All of it adds to the ultimate downfall of all the characters and provides the motivation they need for revenge.

The use of poker was an interesting aspect that added to the suspense. The whole crime is a game of poker right to the end. It's intriguing just how closely linked every movement is, and how Maud knows exactly what hand she needs to deal. It's not just the characters who are bluffed. Readers will be too.

Keshena Hanson recently earned a degree in English from University of Wisconsin - Green Bay, and was published in the University's Sheepshead Review. Her love for mystery started with Blue's Clues, and now she reads any mystery she can get her hands on.

Reviewed by Keshena Hanson, March 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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