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The Hustler

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Pan, London, 1985
(price: 1.95; 192 pages)
first published in Great Britain 1960 by Michael Joseph

dedication: for Jamie, who bore with me afterwards

The blurb on the back:

To Fast Eddie Felson, pool was all about winning. What mattered most was hitting the big time - and big money. It took him from two dollar-games in one-horse towns to Chicago, where a match against the legendary Minnesota Fats would prove him the best... or a loser.
He was beaten, though he should have won.
Driven to start all over again - backed by a shrewd gambler and a cynical, love-hungry woman - Fast Eddie has to prove he knows the difference between winners and losers. Then he'll be ready for another epic confrontation with Minnesota Fats. Only this time Fats mustn't stand a chance...

opening lines:
Henry, black and stooped, unlocked the door with a key on a large metal ring. He had just come up in the elevator. It was nine o'clock in the morning.

Walter Tevis had a curious career: he published two novels at the turn of the 1960s and then disappeared from the writing scene for 15 years to become an academic, a trajectory made all the more odd by the fact that the novels he wrote were so populist and successful.

This was the first of them, the book that fixed forever the image of pool as a disreputable game, an activity founded on addiction and obsession, and tinted with the shades of the underworld. It took the American myth that anyone can be successful and transferred it to sport in a way that - when filmed in 1961 with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason - provided the blueprint for Rocky et al.

The book loses out by not having Mr Newman to articulate the character, but gains considerably from the writing of Mr Tevis - where the screenplay veered off into melodrama, he keeps the thing much cooler and more hard-boiled. Personally, I'd have to say that it's not a patch on his second novel, The Man Who Fell To Earth, which is a tremendous piece of work with or without the movie, but then I'm more interested in technologically advanced aliens than in the aspirant underbelly of America. This may not be true for you.

This edition, incidentally, dates from the release of the film sequel, The Color of Money, which really isn't much cop at all. At the back of the book is an order form for other Pan paperbacks, which the previous owner has completed in the name: Frank Zappa, 102 Malibu Beach, Los Angeles. I'm not entirely sure that this is authentic, particularly since the same person has also written the words 'Everton FC' on the same page, and I don't have the late Mr Zappa marked down as an Everton fan. (Spurs, perhaps, but not Everton.)


from the maker of...

The Man Who Fell To Earth