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EIGHT OF SWORDS by David Skibbins

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 06 November 2007

There are those who believe in fortune tellers, though most of us don’t. The tarot card reader operating as a part-time street vendor on Berkeley’s unsavoury Telegraph Avenue doesn’t believe in his own brand of bullshit either. Unfortunately, the cards keep turning up threatening omens—more frequently than random card dealing should predict.

And that’s only the beginning of seemingly arbitrary events.

For anyone who has lived in the San Francisco Bay area, EIGHT OF SWORDS provides a nice spot of local colour; even the squalid areas are covered with the soothing cream of nostalgia. Of course, some of what the author does is to serve up bits of our middle-aged pasts, back when we actually believed that it was possible to change the world. He presents it on toast—a little bite of something rich and fervent, topped with a few drops of reality, a sauce made of sautéed bitter fruit, vinegar and spices, simmered for years.

I felt joyful as the early story unfolded; the author presented a flowing, impossibly complex problem to resolve. Warren Ritter, the man who tells the story in the first person, is a bomb poised to self-destruct for many reasons, only some of which he can control.

I don’t know whether I’m glad, but I read this series debut second. Often when I begin a story by an unknown author, a dark little judge perches on my shoulder scrutinizing my reading, ready to discard books which fail to measure up. Perhaps that makes me less attentive to a new author’s work. In this case, because I had already enjoyed the second book, I was able to savour every word and nuance in EIGHT OF SWORDS from the beginning. It made for a thoroughly satisfactory experience—much greater than I could have received had I read it first.

As I became involved in EIGHT OF SWORDS, I began to race through the book; the images flew by only partly realized because I didn’t want to slow down. The plot weaves through several storylines, faster and faster. The ride is thrilling.

Having read the second book first does mean, however, that I shall now have to reread the second book because the series debut leaves several storylines dangling in tantalizing ways. The characters in the second story are now so much more important than they once were. I found Warren much more likable in this story, so we shall see if I retain my new fondness for him.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret: the author still believes in that we can have a better world stuff too.