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Entertainment News

Wednesday, 27 February, 2008 10:45 AM

Book Review: "21: Bringing Down the House" is thrilling and exciting

 

by Jennifer Vuong
Jennifer.Vuong@hotmail.com

They say whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But that’s not true in Ben Mezrich’s 21: Bringing Down the House. Mezrich daringly divulges into the gambling secrets of six M.I.T students who took Las Vegas for millions.

The book is based on a true account of a group of elite M.I.T students recruited into a blackjack team devoted to counting cards and beating major casinos at their own game. They spend their weekdays studying and doing homework. And on the weekends, they hang out with celebrities, sleep in hotel suites and make hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the beginning, their card-counting careers were successful, but as time passed and the casinos lost money, the casinos picked up on their skills and started refusing the let the some of the group set foot in the buildings. Some of the students even came too close to call of being “back roomed” – and it’s the last thing they’d ever want to happen.

The idea for the book came from one of the card-counters himself. Kevin Lewis, or Jeff Ma (his real name) offered Mezrich the details of his lifestyle in the past, the contacts to the people who were apart of it, and the card-counters system, in exchange for giving him his “moment.” This moment would prove to the world that the story about his double-life was true. Also, this moment would help him come to terms with the decisions he made in life.

Mezrich unbelievably illustrates the details from Lewis’ account. From the first chapter onward, suspense is built up dramatically. At times, the situations the characters go through, such as strapping tens of thousands of dollars on their body and going through an airport metal detector, is described in such detail that it’s hard not to feel the characters fear and apprehension about being caught.

He also interviews the people from Lewis’ past double-life and gathers more information about their relationship with Lewis and his friends. Mezrich writes about these meetings and frequently and flawlessly transitions these settings from the past to the present.

It’s remarkable how many facts he inputs about the game of blackjack. He skillfully illustrates the complexity of card counting into a simple approach. He breaks down the rules, signals and terminology to put the reader into the mindset of one of the card-counters. It is obvious that Mezrich did a lot of careful research.

Unfortunately, the mastermind of the team’s character is not too well developed. Not much is said about Micky Rosa – but maybe that’s apart of the suspense. The reader is left deciding whether he stands as a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” The ending is also a little disappointing. It never resolved the big conflict of who ratted out the team and their card counting ways to the casinos.

The book is a thrilling and exciting read. Once you begin, it’s difficult to stop. The anticipation of what’s going to happen next draws you onto the next chapter. You might even feel the urge to fly to Las Vegas and try out some of the card-counting techniques.

The movie 21, based on the book, reaches theatres on March 28.

 

 

 

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