Wednesday, June 28, 2023

A Most Contagious Game

Samuel Grafton (1907-1997) was a publishing success with his syndicated newspaper column “I'd Rather Be Right”, which ran from 1939-1948 in over 120 newspapers. The Brooklyn native grew up in Philadelphia, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, served as an editorial-page editor for the New York Post, and contributed to national magazines in the 1980s. The only fictional novel that Grafton wrote, based on my research, was A Most Contagious Game. It was published in hardcover by Doubleday in 1955, then in paperback format by Pocket Books a year later with cover art by Tom Dunn.

Dan is a newspaper reporter in Philadelphia when he is offered the assignment of a lifetime. His editor offers him $5,000 in cash to relocate to New York City and submerge himself into the underworld. His undercover role will produce provocative, sensational news stories that readers desire. Dan breaks up with his girlfriend and moves to the Big Apple.

On a train, Dan meets up with a low-level theologian that offers up some valuable insight on life, plus a room at a seedy motel where Dan can gain firsthand experience with crime. Unfortunately, Dan gets robbed of his $5,000 and is left fending for survival as a homeless, inexperienced wreck on the city streets. He ends up meeting a prostitute, which leads to a promising world of sex and various small-time criminal activities. Eventually, Dan meets the pimp and gets into a bigger racket of collecting bets and the various moving and shaking of crooks circumventing backroom craps games. Dan's journey into criminality leads to a face-to-face showdown with the two guys that robbed him.

A Most Contagious Game is just an average crime-noir novel that uses the theme of rags to riches to explore the rise from upstanding citizen to notorious crime-boss. Grafton offers up some brilliant social commentary on human struggles and the idea of God and religion. I thought these were the real highlights of the book, with the crime-fiction element playing second fiddle. If you want a better, more thrilling crime-noir novel centered around craps games and illegal gambling, try Clark Howard's masterpiece The Arm. But, a lukewarm recommendation still exists for A Most Contagious Game

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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