Book Review: “Life is a Gamble” by Andrew Perendes
Imagine a Guy Ritchie movie, only for real.
That’s the life story of Andrew “Giddy” Perendes — a professional poker player, jewel thief, and silver-tongued charmer who has witnessed the gritty dark side of London’s underground gambling scene up close and personal for nearly 50 years. His tale is one of survival as much as adventure. Imagine following an alley cat around, and that’s pretty much the picture.
“Life is a Gamble” stands as a confessional biography, a bear-bones testament to many of the dirty deeds done. One suspects it’s not actually a complete “tell all” book, or else Perendes might end up stuffed inside an oil drum at the bottom of the North Sea. Still, his deepest revelations took some bravery. In fact, Perendes’ tone is so matter-of-fact about all the heists and con-jobs he’s pulled over the years, one wonders whether or not he even knows the difference between right and wrong. Oddly enough, this is what gives the writer an irresistible appeal.
Co-authored with writer Elizabeth Rogers, who put this book together following a series of one-on-one interviews with Perendes, the book interweaves the anti-hero’s meandering journey with larger life’s questions and what (he thinks) it all means. There’s winning and losing. There’s love and heartbreak. But above all else, there’s the perpetual pursuit of the next (always elusive) big score. As one might guess, the point off this entire exercise rests in the title, that living life to the fullest is the ultimate gamble.
Perendes was born on the divided Greek island of Cyprus, then a war torn land of chaos and conflict. As a teen, he immigrated to England, bringing with him the brazen recklessness stereotypically associated with so many Greeks. It’s as though Perendes knew from the very start that his life — wherever it was lived — would take place on the outer fringes, very much on the edge.
Settings include various dog tracks, casinos, bars, backrooms and assorted underground card games where one hustle follows another. Co-stars include a cavalcade of eccentric characters who seem fit for a circus sideshow. Perendes even gets thrown into prison a few times, reminiscing about the time serves as a badge of honor.
Then, there’s the humor. I’ll admit laughing out loud several times while reading what’s occasionally a gripping narrative. Call it a guilty pleasure. During one outlandish criminal escapade, Perendes hides a multi-karat diamond up his ass, which depending on the reader’s perspective is either the most disgusting or hilarious thing imaginable. Some happy couple now living in Kensington probably has no idea of the unique story surrounding their engagement ring’s stone centerpiece.
As mesmerizing as Perendes’ private world is in a Sexy Beast or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels sort of way, the narrative lacks much historical relevance. We’ve traveled down this road and through this territory before, most notably in two appalling biographies on David “Devilfish” Ulliott. One might not be able to get enough of the seedy East London atmosphere if you’re into that sort of thing. But many others will find these concealing quarters quite stifling, indeed.
No doubt, there’s a potential trailblazer still to be written on the quirky U.K. (and Irish) poker scene, with its obvious abundance of larger-than-life whacked-out characters. A narrative on the Midlands, for instance, where the English poker scene was born and initially blossomed 30 years ago would not only make a wonderfully entertaining read, but could also serve as an essential chapter in poker’s history. Paging Jesse May, Des Wilson, Tony Holden, Vicky Coren, Lee Davy, Snoopy, or Marc Convey. Opportunity calls.
“Life is a Gamble” won’t win any literary awards. It probably won’t even sell that many copies. Yet one presumes generating sales or becoming famous isn’t really the point. Much like the colorful life he’s led, Perendes is here for the ride and he’s hoping others might lend him a curious glance. Well, he gets more than a passing glance from me. More like a disbelieving stare.
Someone please tell Guy Ritchie there’s a great movie in here somewhere.