Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Jeffrey Overton, unemployed IT professional turned poker player, pushes his luck once too often and runs afoul of the host of an illegal card club. The man sent to escort Jeffrey to a “meeting” about his supernatural winning streak arrives at Jeffrey’s crappy North Portland apartment, lock-picking tools in hand and a charm to block Jeffrey’s magick.
Head muscle for said host, Mike Wells, is a Daisy from Daisyville. He isn’t a witch. What he lacks in magickal talent he makes up for in brawn, so he doesn’t expect the guy he’s after to overpower him. But once Mike renders Jeffrey helpless, he’d rather seduce him than bring him in.
Jeffrey and Michael ditch the “meeting” and end up hunting some of the same people they ran from, trying to get Jeffrey back into his own body. And that’s only part of the adventure. The pair travel halfway across the country on the quietest road trip in history and find missing people, empire-building witches, and maybe even the families they’d both thought lost to them.
I really like Charley Descoteaux because even as sections of this story had me grinding my teeth in frustration her characters of Jeffrey Overton and Mike Wells are so endearing and charming that they swayed me over to their side and kept me there for the duration of The Pinch of the Game. No matter how many times along the narrative path I wanted to stop due to poor universe construction or illogical character traits, their engaging ways and winning natures carried me through one bumpy writing obstacle after another.
We start off in an alternate universe that’s never really given any explanation or foundation. There are witches, but of what type and magical basis we just don’t know. There are non-magical humans as well, like Mike, but again, little background or history is given. At first (I missed the note at first), I thought The Pinch of the Game must be part of a series I had missed. As a stand alone that lack of foundation and grounding in world building leaves this story feeling as though it is the middle part of a much larger story. What’s worse? The knowledge in the foreword that this story started out as a short story and was enlarged to this version. *shakes head*
Jeffrey is a Stumptown witch and “A Stumptown witch doesn’t go far from the source of his power”, except when he does. In search of his mother, another witch in a bad situation that is never quite explored and whose resolution comes far too quickly for the buildup. There is some stomach churning body switching and more, none of which really makes any sense which is probably ok because neither does the plot. I just liked reading about Jeffrey and Mike and their developing relationship. That saved this story for me.
Of course, the whole thing came close to being derailed one more with a little scene at the end where unexpected and sort of jaw dropping facts came out about Jeffrey. With no basis laid anywhere in the story for this and no way to substantiate their truthfulness or weigh the impact upon Mike and Jeffrey’s relationship because the story just ends, the reader is just left hanging, wondering again what they had just read.
Only Charley Descoteaux’s terrific imagination and two main characters saved this story from a lower rating. I love this author but this story was just too disorganized and jumbled to make any sense.
Cover art by AngstyG is wonderful. I love the design and 20’s feel. Great job.
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ebook, 98 pages
Published June 24th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press