Bluff, by Michael Kardos

Head of ZeusISBN-13: 978-1-78854-374-3

In the illusionist’s world, close-up magic is king, and eighteen-year-old prodigy Natalie Webb promised to be one of the best. Then she got burned by an unscrupulous artist who stole her heart along with her best illusion. Nine years on, honest, but grindingly poor, Natalie ekes out an existence performing at frat parties, bar mitzvahs and occasionally—if she’s really lucky—corporate shows. A seasoned entertainer, she has a ready stock of one-liners and put-downs for hecklers and wind-up merchants. But lawyers are professionally trained at the wind-up routine, and Natalie lets one of them get to her, injuring him in the process and—true to her luck—the casualty is a personal injury lawyer who goes by the nickname ‘Lucifer’.  The resulting lawsuit could bury her financially for life. Then a chance encounter leads her to an opportunity to make $1.5 million. But when the stakes are that high, so are the risks, and Natalie finds herself drawn into a terrifying world.

Bluff is a clever take on the long con and Natalie is a hugely likable protagonist. I was instantly hooked by the story’s dextrous twists and turns, misdirections and writerly sleight of hand. Kardos’s suspenseful story builds to a shocking chapter which had me literally breathless with apprehension. The denouement delivers a beautifully executed final twist, befitting a magician who has mastered the art of the close-up trick.