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Bluff by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

If you’ve ever taken a writing course you’ve heard ‘write what you know’. Jane Stanton Hitchcock must have been following that advice when she penned her latest book. The author is a poker player whose mother was swindled by her financial advisor much like Maud Warner in Bluff.

Maud is known as Mad Maud Warner by the denizens of New York high society. Maud used to be a member but her family fortune vanished with her mother Lois’ death. Burt Sklar was managing that fortune and Maud’s nickname came from her frequent and vociferous accusations of theft against Sklar.

Maud grew older moved to Washington D.C. and developed a passion for poker; but she did not move on. As we meet her she is dressing very carefully in designer clothing from her more affluent days. Dress is very important so that she looks like she belongs where she is going. Millionaire Sun Sunderland frequently lunches at the Four Seasons and on this day his dinner companion is Burt Sklar.

Maud calmly walks into the famous restaurant and tells the maître de that she is meeting Sunderland. As she approaches the booth she pulls out a gun, aims and fires, then drops the gun and just as calmly walks out.

Even though the shooting is all over the news Maud knows that a middle-aged woman in the right clothes with a calm manner is invisible. She catches the train to D.C. and once there goes into hiding.

The assumption is Maud was aiming at Burt but missed and shot Sunderland (helped by Sklar who tried to use his good friend as a human shield). Sunderland’s condition is grave as his wife Jean rushes to the hospital.

Jean keeps a vigil at the hospital while her gossipy friends await news. When she is finally allowed into the ICU she has company. She discovers Sun has another wife, a former stripper named Dany. After Sun makes it clear he wants Dany, a stunned and furious Jean seeks refuge with her friend Greta.

When Sun dies things get really interesting. Maud is now wanted for murder and Jean finds she is almost penniless as Burt has a power of attorney signed by Sun leaving Burt and Dany in control of his fortune.

This novel starts more than halfway through the story so Maud begins to fill us in on the beginning of her association with Sklar. We move between Maud’s story and what is happening with Jean, Dany and the police who are getting desperate to find Maud.

Maud’s grievances against Sklar are numerous and large; they involve not only her mother and money but also her brother Alan. Maud is a very good poker player but to get revenge she’ll need to pull off the biggest bluff of her life. Will Maud succeed, what happens with Jean and Dany, and what did Sun mean when he exclaimed just before being shot “Lois! No! We killed you!”? Plus there is a plot twist I didn’t see coming.

Stanton Hitchcock is not an author I had read before but I made a note to check it out after reading a couple of reviews. Words like smartly plotted, frothy fun, quick-moving and intricate drew me. It lived up to the hype. Bluff is a fun read and the reviewers described it perfectly.

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