Tim Powers' new contemporary fantasy has the same mythological setting--and even some of the same characters--as last year's big film, "Bugsy." Scott Crane, an alcoholic former professional gambler, must challenge his father for the kingship of a weird and wonderful Las Vegas of the Mind--a kingship that Crane's father wrested from Bugsy Siegel himself in the 1940s.
At first, Last Call shows signs of becoming another predictably manic tour through American pop iconography--charbroiled magic realism with a side of fries. But it happily develops into a character study of a man who discovers his life has an immutable destiny, whether he wants it or not. Having literally mortgaged his body to his father in a poker game 23 years before, Crane's only chance of survival is to face that destiny, and find a way to rise out of his boozing, random existence.
Powers doesn't make it easy for him. The king will claim his son's body at Easter, and Crane has only days to learn the rules of this human poker and out-bluff his father before the old king assumes a new body-- namely Crane's. Along the way, Crane must also deal with the wild card of his foster sister, who is the psychic embodiment of the Queen of Hearts to Crane's One-Eyed Jack. Though the plot is as complex and fluid as high-stakes poker, and the setting is the intricately imagined Camelot of gambling itself, Powers does not forget that the most important element in any novel's game is the stylish play of character.