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4.3 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 6 August 2015
I read this intriguing novel over the course of a few days while on holiday in Belgium.It reads very fluently and it is well written by an author I had never heard of before. It tells the tale of an English swindler who is blowing all of his ill earned money in casinos in Macau under the aristocratic alias of Lord Doyle. He plays the card game baccarat and stakes huge sums of money on bets,sometimes winning but usually losing. His character is portrayed superbly as he becomes a slave to the vice of gambling,unable to stop and addicted to the thrill of abandoning his fate to blind chance.He is completely mad and is apparently possessed by a supernatural entity which drives him on into a hedonistic road to oblivion.He briefly forms a relationship with a prostitute who shows him kindness and compassion,but those are things Lord Doyle doesn't really want.He doesn't really want money either,just the thrill of gambling. It is a compelling,atmospheric story and the decadence of Macau,Hong Kong and Lamma Island are well portrayed in an exciting,page turning narrative.This deranged man has sold his soul to the Devil in the guise of Lady Luck and the Devil is leading him on a path of existential,sensual pleasure to ultimate destruction.Love and kindness extend a hand to him on this sad journey but can't stop his mania. "The Ballad of a Small Player" is one of the best books that I have read this year and was a great holiday read.
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Lord Doyle, not a lord at all but rather a corrupt lawyer who sponged funds from a client and then went on the run, finds himself in Macau, haunting the gambling dens and casinos, playing baccarat and, like most gamblers losing more money than he wins. When he meets Dao-Ming, a beautiful and enigmatic woman, his luck takes a turn for the better and suddenly the cards begin to fall in his favour. The stakes become ever higher, and the money floods in but is there, at the end of the line, a price still to be paid?

As several reviewers have mentioned Osborne's writing style, and indeed his central character in The Ballad of a Small Player, are reminiscent of Graham Greene at his finest. There is much of Greene's clipped elegance about the prose together with that sense of desperation and futility being an almost tangible part of the landscape. Lord Doyle with his strangely likeable air of cynicism and his ability to remain a gentleman (almost) no matter what fate throws in his direction also owes something to Greene's whisky priests, over-looked bureaucrats and faded gangsters. Everything in the book is narrated from Lord Doyle's perspective and as the story progresses we genuinely grow to care what happens to this, at heart, rather shabby individual.

There is, as you would expect from a novel with gambling at its core, a great deal in the book about luck and addiction. In particular the inability of the desperate gambler to leave a table either when he is winning or when he is losing is brilliantly highlighted. When she's against you Lady Luck has to be charmed and pursued; when she's with you there is an obligation to make the most of her affections. Either way you can't leave her alone. There is also, at its core, a beautiful, enigmatic ghost story in the book. Just who is Dao-Ming? What are the secrets of her past and what is the relationship between luck, fate, chance and the supernatural?

The Ballad of a Small Player is only just over 200 pages long but it is far from a simple tale about one man and his fascination with gambling. There's a real depth to the characters, situations and ideas as well as a real elegance to the prose. It is, I suspect, a book that would reward repeated re-readings. It's terrific stuff, and one of the most fascinating books I have read for quite a while. Recommended.
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on 8 April 2014
I bought The Ballad of a Small Player while on holiday in Hong Kong and after a weekend in Macau.

Laid low by a virulent case of bronchitis from the return flight to UK, I settled down to read it and completed it (literally) in one feverish sitting.

A great story, with brilliant atmospheric descriptions of Macau, Hong Kong and Lamma Island. I loved it.
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I found this novel both original and compulsive reading. There is throughout a really convincing sense of atmosphere in Macau, in the casinos, the hotels, the streets, cafes and brothels. This world is as central to the book as Lord Doyle its central character bent on becoming the highest rolling losing gambler in Hong Kong and probably beyond. I don’t think it is quite in the class of the best of Graham Greene, but it does show a delightfully light touch. In all richly entertaining and thoroughly recommended.
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on 18 April 2014
This book gives a clear description of the world of serious gambling and financial ruin. Do not be put of by this, the book, like gambling is compulsive. It is a good story of the seemy world of the far East and the fortunes, or lack of them, of one compulsive gambler. An excellent read.
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on 25 May 2014
A fantastic read! The ending really knocked the stuffing out of me!!! Loved it! ..... So impressed, ive ordered Bangkok Days! .... And if its as good,i will plough through the rest of Lawrence Osbournes collection. ;)
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on 5 June 2014
Fire cracker prose makes this book a compulsive read. The adrenalin ride of professional gambling is beautifully captured and you live every bet at the baccarat tables with 'Lord Doyle'. Little in the way of plot, and characterisation a little weak, but overall a compelling book.
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on 15 May 2014
Interesting, and good to begin with but then becomes a bit repetitive; although good very good observations of characters and a 'secret' world of gambling. But ultimately not very satisfying.
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on 19 May 2014
Great story, with a very visual and atmospheric portait of a gambler admist the glamour and seediness of Macao. This haunting tale is very oriental and written by someone who obviously loves Asia, from it's gutters to it's chandeliers.
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on 25 July 2015
I really enjoyed this book. It gave an insight into the world of gambling which I am unfamiliar with ; Well written with a good plot- exotic location, a real treat- Will definitely read more by this author.
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