Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard (Eli Marks #1)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good characters, humor, and a decent mystery
Cons: Slowed down by discussions of magic
The Bottom Line:
When psychic is stabbed
Eli finds himself suspect
Promising but flawed

I Wish the Mystery Had Been a Little More Ambitious

I truly enjoy magic, so a mystery with an amateur magician as the main character really appealed to me.  I was excited when I got a code for a free Audible download of The Ambitious Card, the first in a series with just such a character.  Sadly, I found the mystery a little lacking.

Eli Marks is not expecting any trouble when he agrees to fill in for his uncle on a Halloween show.  It is being filmed live for the local PBS station, and Eli is supposed to come on after the psychic, a man who goes by the name of Grey, does his act to debunk it.  While watching, Eli quickly recognizes Grey’s tricks as variations on magic acts that Eli has used in the past, and as part of his segment, he does a few card tricks to demonstrate his point.

However, the next morning, Eli finds himself the chief suspect in a murder.  Grey was stabbed after the show, and a playing card that Eli had given him on camera was left at the scene of the crime.  With Eli’s ex-wife’s new husband investigating the case, Eli knows he will have to conjure up some other suspects in order to stay out of jail.  Can he prove his innocence?

I could tell the pacing was going to be off early on when we spent the first couple of chapters watching Grey’s act.  I tried to chalk it up to setting up the story, and that was certainly part of it, but that seemed to continue throughout the book.  Yes, parts of our detours into magic seemed to work their way into the plot later on, but it still felt like more of a focus than the actual solving of the mystery.

Which is a shame because the mystery had the chance to be wonderful.  There are some very viable suspects and the way the plot unfolded kept me interested when it was the focus of the book.  I did feel the revelation was a little weak, although the person I had pegged as the killer was not the guilty party.

Likewise, the characters are interesting.  Heck, I read so many amateur detective books with female main characters, it’s nice to read one with a man the main character for a change.  Eli is a great character, and his uncle always made me smile.  The rest of the suspects were completely believable as well.

Plus there’s the humor.  Eli has a wonderful sense of sarcasm that comes across in his dialogue and the first person narration.  Heck, that helped make the climax one of the funniest I’ve read while still leaving me very concerned about Eli’s safety.  It also helped lighten the book, which definitely falls more toward the soft boiled side of the spectrum.

As I mentioned, I listened to the Audible version.  It was narrated by Jim Cunningham, who did an outstanding job.  He brought the characters to life and kept me engaged from start to finish.

There is much potential in The Ambitious Card, and I wanted to enjoy it more than I did.  Hopefully, the magic aspect will not overwhelm the mystery as the series continues.

I was glad I continued with the Eli Marks Mysteries.

NOTE: I won a copy of the Audible download.  No promise or discussion of a review was made in exchange.  My thoughts are my own.


  1. Interesting! I wonder if the written will move more smoothly than the audible. I don't do audible as my mind wanders all over the place.

    1. No, it's not the audible version. It's that the book itself just bogs down at times.

  2. I love sarcasm, especially in books. :-)


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