CriminOlly thinks: Staggeringly good mix of sports underdog tale and crime novel, beautifully told. 5/5
Title: The Hustler | Author: Walter Tevis | Series: Eddie Felson #1 | Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson | Pages: 240 | Publication date: 1959 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No
I’ve read 3 Tevis books in the last year or so, and each has been phenomenal. He’s in danger of becoming my favourite author. His style, both his prose and his storytelling, is incredibly straightforward. No tricks, no flourishes, just words and stories that flow into brain with no friction at all.
‘The Hustler’ was his first book in 1959, famously filmed with Paul Newman in the lead role as Fast Eddie, a talented young pool hustler. It’s a classic riches to rags to riches type tale of the sort that Hollywood loves. It starts with a fantastic battle between Eddie and an older champion, Minnesota Fats, which Eddie nearly wins and then loses. The rest of the book has him building himself up again from nothing for a rematch.
Just as he did later in his novel about a chess prodigy, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, Tevis does a brilliant job of drawing tension out of the games Eddie plays, without the reader needing to understand the intricacies of pool. I ended up feeling like an expert on the game, although in sure that’s an illusion.
Despite not being a sports fan, I’m a sucker for sports stories and this is a great one. The highs and the lows of the matches, with the added zing of the danger that comes from the seedier side of pool hall hustling, make for fantastically entertaining reading.
Best of all, Eddie is a great character and one I ended up wholeheartedly rooting for. He’s a kind of Everyman of young male hubris and determination and makes the book feel more meaningful than it might have otherwise. Add to that Tevis’s gorgeously sparse prose and you have a book that I’d recommend to anyone.
Fast Eddie Felson has a reputation as a pool hustler to be feared, but his ambitions go far beyond taking small-town punks for a few bucks here and there. He has the talent to make big money, but he soon learns that it takes more than natural ability to become a real winner. He heads to Chicago to test himself against the legendary Minnesota Fats in more than forty-hours of high-stakes pool. Can he find the will to overcome his failings and fulfil his potential as the best there is?
Content Warning: Gambling
Tolerance Warning: All good