Johnny had been to the top. Young and slick, he knew how to play the high roller, dress the part, and make his opponents sweat. He’d ridden into Vegas on a winning streak a mile wide. But Vegas took everything, even his lucky gold tooth.
You’d think he couldn’t fall any lower than a homeless shelter full of the downtrodden. And he couldn’t possibly have anything left to lose. But you’d be wrong.
Johnny soon discovers there’s a game going on at the shelter. A game where before you play the cards you have to make them. A game where the payout is survival and folding means death. A game where the question becomes: are you playing the cards or are they playing you?
Using 52 chapters Arnzen’s novel-of-cards is stacked with mischief and thrills. Like the most accomplished blackjack dealer Arnzen will keep you guessing at his hand. Are you ready to play?
“Arnzen (Bram Stoker award-winner, Grave Markings) sets his second horror novel in a nightmarish ‘Vegas,’ where a group of desperate homeless men play an ultra-high-stakes ‘Butcher Boy’ card game run by casino owner Nebo Tarrochi. To qualify for the game, each player must create a suit of cards based on lurid photographs of dead people, and this cautionary tale grows sticky with relentless gore as the victims pile up.”
“Unreservedly, utterly nasty…and man, does Mike Arnzen make it a work of art — we have got meticulously handcrafted ghastliness here, and no mistake. Arnzen is in the company of writers like Poppy Z, Brite, Clive Barker, and Stephen King, to name just three. That little frisson of fearful disgust is, after all, what we’re after: as an author, Arnzen aims to creep you out, and as readers shopping in the horror aisle, that’s what we want more than anything. Well done….Play Dead commands an extraordinary palette of horror: impersonal and personal, internal and external, intellectual and animal . . . as many varieties as you please, really, from Conrad’s “The horror, the horror!” having to do with what a man feels in the depths of his own moral disintegration, to the primal mortal horror of seeing with his own eyes that the clean death everyone wants isn’t what he’s likely to get, that pain and fear and filth and isolation are how it ends, that death oozes and stinks and will hurt beyond imagining—and that it can come to him because some other desires it, or worse, as luck of the draw.” — NY Review of Science Fiction
“This novel does indeed work as hardboiled crime fiction, but has a layer of brutality and undercurrent of the supernatural that makes it work for horror fans, too. Imagine David Mamet doing an episode of Tales from the Crypt, Scorcese in the Twilight Zone, that sort of feel. And the horror in the novel is genuine. Though the central characters are archetypal, they are richly drawn and you find yourself genuinely concerned about them (Gin in particular). Despite the pulpy feel, the existential questions put forth by the novel give it a real gravity.”
—Jeremy Robert Johnson for Dark Discoveries
“Broken down into fifty-two chapters, Play Dead is sure to appeal to both card players and horror fans alike.”
—Chizine & SFReader
“Las Vegas is as diseased a city as there is, and Mike Arnzen knows this as well as anyone. In Play Dead, he distills its essence down to a uniquely brutal game and brings together as fascinatingly repellent a bunch of losers ever to make a grab for the corroded brass ring. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Jesus, let’s hope so.”
—Brian Hodge, author of Deathgrip and Wild Horses
“Like a game of high-stakes poker, the story progresses hand after hand, with increasing intensity, the characters tempting fate while they seal their own. …Arnzen is a master of the concise. This book is relatively short, under 300 pages, but packs a powerful wallop. Arnzen deftly deals.”
—Flesh & Blood
“Play Dead reads like white lightning. The wonderfully grungy characters and staccato-fast chapters grab you by the face, haul you in, and won’t let go, while the richly metaphoric style begs for savoring on every page. Arnzen wears a wry gaming grin even as he reminds us the universe is little more than a horrorshow comprised of pure plain chance. This terrific (in all senses of the word) novel hits the ground running and just won’t stop.”
—Lance Olsen, author of Hideous Beauties and Girl Imagined by Chance
“With Play Dead, Arnzen has created a masterpiece of eloquent depravity. It features all of the sins of Vegas, slathering on heaping portions of insane greed, savage sex, irredeemable blasphemy, and skull-crunching violence. You’ll get sucked in on the first page, and won’t put the book down until you reach the breathless finale. Arnzen writes like someone has a shotgun to his head, and Mike might be the one pulling the trigger…”
—J.A. Konrath, author of Bloody Mary
“Play Dead is a fun story full of power, life and death, intricacies of relationships, mysticism and survival. Arnzen weaves a gripping tale with just the right blend of intrigue, horror, and morality. Very entertaining.”
“…a fast-paced, brutal, gritty, and unflinching novel.”
“If you’re a poker player and you read this book, you’ll never look at another hand without thinking about it in a macabre way. ”
Here is the opening chapter of PLAY DEAD for your viewing pleasure. If for some reason you are unable to read it here, visit Scribd.com/Arnzen.
by Michael A. Arnzen
List price: $15.95
Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2013
Amazon Kindle, $4.99
Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2005 (Hardcover Limited to 500 Copies & 52 Sculpture-Bound “Grimoire” Editions)
ISBN 1-933293-04-7 | List Price $27, 271 pp. | Sold Out /OUT OF PRINT