Penn's Random

Bruce Von Stiers

Penn Jillette does a whole bunch of different things. He's a top tiered magician. He's a television host and fronts a bit of online gambling. Penn is also an author. He has written books with titles such as Presto! And God, No!

Penn's latest effort at writing is a novel. And just not any novel. It involves gambling and chances of fate. The novel is titled Random and is being published by Akashic Books.

The main character in the novel is Bobby Ingersoll. He grew up in Las Vegas, where his mother was a showgirl and his dad a gambler with a perpetual losing streak. Bobby is a few hours away from his twenty-first birthday. He finds out that his dad is into a loan shark for a couple of million dollars. And that, unless the debt is paid within a matter of hours, both his father and he will be killed. And his mother and sister will be raped and murdered. Well, if that scenario just seems a bit wild, the rest of the book will be an experience.

In a twist on an old adage, Bobby happens to be in the right place at the right time to come across a whole bunch of money. Minutes after midnight, when he's officially of age, Bobby takes a roll of the dice at a casino using his new money. This winning roll of the dice now becomes the foundation and substance for the remainder of the novel.

You see, Bobby is now using the dice to control events in his life. He makes a list and depending on the roll of the dice, he then does the item on that list according to what number comes up on the dice.

From paying his father's debt to making new friends and acquiring enemies, Bobby's life has become completely random. Hence the title of the novel.

Random is a mix of crime novel, human drama and obscure fantasy with just more than a bit of debauchery. Previous praise for the novel included a comparison to Elmore Leonard. I don't know as I'd go that far, but Penn does seem to have a keen sense of offbeat and dodgy characters.

The novel winds it's way through several times and trials for Bobby. With each roll of the dice, Bobby leaves his life choices up to being random. As the novel progressed, I kept wondering where Penn was going with the story. Was there going to be a big finish, with Bobby taking on the whole world? Would these new friends or enemies that Bobby's accumulated be the end of him? The ending was a bit of a surprise. But only a bit. There are a few places in the novel that I felt could have been a bit less depraved, but it wasn't my story to write.

Random was an interesting and entertaining read. Penn Jillette is an excellent story teller and the characters in the novel are fun and, for the most part, enjoyable.

You can grab a copy of Random from book retailers like amazon. You can also get one from the publisher, Akashic Books. Their website can be found at

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© 2022 Bruce E Von Stiers