Finding truth, and maybe hope, in noir


Jim Sanderson

Gambled Dreams

Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC

Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-1-9524-3904-9, 282 pgs., $16

March 1, 2021


“Know what you are good at. Know your place. Know your limits. Stay in them.”


In a life filled with loss, discovering any scrap of positivity can be virtually impossible. For Colton Parker, providing for his family means he loses himself.


Alcohol, gambling, and prostitution define Odessa, Texas, during the oil boom and subsequent bust of the 1980s, and Colton works for Snake Popp at the Cactus Lounge by keeping the peace through mostly non-peaceful ways. Bullet Price, an entrepreneur with a lucrative business managing prostitutes at the First Quality Motel, approaches Colton for help avenging the brutal murder of her friend Danny Fowler—without any police involvement. Bullet and one of her girls take care of one of the killers, and Colton and his father-in-law track down the other. These characters eventually cross an important line, irrevocably losing themselves.


Gambled Dreams by Jim Sanderson is noir fiction about reaping the results of poor decisions and suffering the loss of family, health, dignity, the soul (and even body parts), while simply scratching out an existence in an unkind world. Choices are made, and no one can outrun the consequences.  


“I wasn’t born ready, and I’m not ready now. But what choice I got?”


Gambled Dreams is separated into two parts, with Colton dominating part one, and one of his sons, Mando, who was young when Colton took on the job of hunting down Danny’s killers, dominating part two several years later. When the oil boom ends, Colton leaves his family he barely knows behind in Odessa, and payments gained through violence become the only way he can provide for his sons; however, money only masks the wounds created by absence and deception. Colton and Mando, forever intertwined by blood, are as different as night and day. Their connection and interaction over the years provide an important view into a relationship hanging by a thread yet unbreakable, irrespective of physical separation and negative circumstances.


This fiction is darkly entertaining and well written, providing a glimpse into lives devoid of hope and happiness but still stubbornly clinging to survival. There are no success stories here, most of the characters slinking through their own personal darkness, breathing in bleakness and West Texas dust. Any love shared between friends, husband and wife, father and son, is hard won and easily lost along the way.


Gambled Dreams is not wrapped up tight at the end, with no loose threads. Real life does not work that way, and the author brilliantly captures that certainty, filling the chapters with tragedy, poverty, and lasting friendships born out of need and secrecy. The ending is deliberately unsatisfying, especially for Mando as he seeks answers about his father’s life and deeds that drove him away, but proper closure and revelations can be just as elusive as a contented life protected from violence and pain.


Gambled Dreams will satisfy any reader who enjoys a story that mostly takes place in the darkest corners in the dead of night. A few instances of compassion, no matter how tarnished, provide just enough illumination for the reader to tread safely to an ending that is still about loss but also about finding truth and whatever hope that truth might bring.


“Gambling is as far as I’m willing to push my luck.”


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