Meet Clare Vengel:

A young woman who would rather get engine grease on her hands than put makeup on her face, prefers beer to cocktails, and has a closet full of sweats. She’s a motorcycle-riding, blue-collar beauty who dislikes the upper crust.

But she’s also a novice undercover cop who doesn’t want to be kicked back to foot patrol and must convince her superiors that her successful first undercover job (Dead Politician Society) wasn’t a fluke. So when she’s asked to play a trust-fund princess and join a cross-Canada poker tour in order to find out who’s killing professional poker players, she jumps at the chance.

As the bodies pile up and Clare investigates a full house of suspects, the differences between Clare, the trailer park-raised former grease-monkey, and Tiffany, the indulged poker maven wannabe who is Clare’s cover role, provide the catalyst for near missteps, ironic events, and truths Clare learns about herself.

Meet Robin Spano:

A skilled writer who rides motorcycles and has played a hand or two of poker. She also understands human relationships and the unsettling roilings beneath their calm veneer. All of which shows in the authenticity of her novel.

Death Plays Poker is an entertaining, fast-paced whodunit in which almost no one is who he or she seems to be. I was happily trying to identify the killer, when things took a nasty turn and it began to look like one of my favourite characters in the novel might be the villain. I have to admit I was momentarily tempted to flip to the last page. But I resisted.

One of the things that Robin Spano does well is create believable suspects with equally believable motives. In Death Plays Poker there are enough likely suspects and the murderer is hidden so well amongst them that a reader will be left guessing, as I was, until the last hand is played by the crafty Ms. Spano.

Death Plays Poker is the second in Robin Spano’s Clare Vengel Undercover series. A third in the series is not long off, and if the cards fall our way, there will be many more to follow.

Death Plays Poker is available from ECW Press.

Reviewed by Charlotte Morganti