Thursday, January 15, 2009




A Nickel Jackpot was the first of three paperback originals by J.J. Lamb featuring Zachariah Tobias Rolfe, a gaming consultant out of Las Vegas. Published in the mid-seventies, the term gaming consultant was simply shorthand for a private eye who specializes in the gambling industry.

In previous Forgotten Book posts, I’ve written about the Operation Hang Ten series and The Bodyguard series. Like those series, the Zach Rolfe books are more compelling in their promise than in the actual execution of the writing. They are also seriously dated by their groovy language (Las Vegas’ coolest P.I.) and their promise of wanton sex.

Still, there is something about these series which has kept them on my shelves when other series have made their way to the Friends of the Library bookstore. Like the pulps, it is the whole package which makes them appealing.

If I remember right, J.J. Lamb was active in Mystery Writers of America for a while and was a very nice guy. He loved driving his Porsche, as does his character Zach Rolfe. As a result, some of the best parts of the books are the esoteric driving tips.

The books themselves are actually several cuts above similar fare. The first two books in the series, A Nickel Jackpot and Chinese Straight, were part of Ballentine’s Suspense line. The third book in the series, Loser Takes All, while actually the best of the series, was released by Carlyle – a lower end publishing house known for eye catching covers.

Here’s the back cover and interior page hype for A Nickel Jackpot:

Name: Zachariah Tobias Rolfe
Profession: Freelance Snoop
Hobbies: Gambling, racing cars, and sex.
Pay Scale: High
Odds Against Survival: Even Higher

They were playing their cards close to their chests.

Carol – A fantastic creature whose chest was spectacular indeed, and who wouldn’t reveal why she was in such a hurry to get Zach Rolfe into bed.

Carl – A high rolling businessman in a make-or-break casino gamble, who was putting his money and Zach’s life right on the line

Mathis, Stein, and Schulyer – A trio of syndicate tycoons who spend their time playing nickel slot machines in public, and making vicious, bloody, payoffs in private.

Barbra – a liberated young lady who came on like a cheerleader for the sexual revolution , but turned out to be playing the game by her own kinky rules.

Zach Rolfe couldn’t be sure of the plays any of them were making, but he could be certain of one thing : when showdown time came, death would be in the hole.

First came a plea for help from the scared owner of a plush new casino. Next a proposition that couldn’t be turned down from a gorgeous blond shill. Than a vicious beating by a hired goon and his gleeful girlfriend that demanded to be paid back with interest. And suddenly Zach Rolfe was playing a lone hand against an underworld octopus whose tentacles reached from the glitter of the gaming rooms to the soft lights of bedrooms to the deadly darkness of an abandoned gold mine in the legendary Comstock Lode.

You’ll dig the action when Zach Rolfe dices with death – and you’ll look forward to his next jolting adventure.

Lots and lots of cliches in the cover copy, but the books themselves outshine the low class hype – can you dig it?


David Cranmer said...

Sometimes dated books like these are a lot of fun and how can you go wrong with a name like Zachariah Tobias Rolfe.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can dig it. Thanks, Paul.

Scott Parker said...

You had me at "HITTING THE JACKPOT IN SEX AND SLAUGHTER!" I mean, really: sex and slaughter. How can you NOT read these books. They're now on The List.

Bill Crider said...

I have, and have read, all these. I even got Lamb to sign them at a Bouchercon. When I told him I didn't have the Carlyle book, he went to his room and got me a copy. You gotta love a guy like that.