The Rogues’ Game

Milton T. Burton's immensely entertaining first novel, The Rogues’ Game, centers on oil barons, cattlemen, gamblers, conmen, and a crooked sheriff in the West Texas of 1947. Packed with period detail and colorful writing, Burton manipulates his complex plot masterfully, with the reader never sure where it is leading.

Burton's unnamed forty-three-year-old hero arrives in town with his thirty-two-year-old companion, Della, to conspire with Chicken Little and Icepick Willie on a scheme involving a weekly high-stakes poker game. It is slowly revealed that the protagonist is not only a conman and an expert poker player but a Harvard law graduate and a veteran of the wartime OSS. That his plan involves government backing only adds flavor, as does a Nazi subplot.

Burton creates an array of credible characters through giving each a solid back story. No mere ornament, the well- read Della springs into action when a massive oil field is discovered soon after they arrive and makes the couple wealthy through her knowledge of oil-lease procedures. Clifton Robillard, a banker, is slowly revealed as the villain and a worthy opponent for the hero.

Burton keeps the oil, poker, and violent elements perfectly balanced in this hard-boiled noir. Too many novels and films about scams are letdowns because the machinery of the process is more interesting than the payoff. Burton avoids this weakness and invites comparisons to such writers as Lawrence Block, James Ellroy, David Goodis, Elmore Leonard, and Donald E. Westlake at their best.