The Poker Club by Ed Gorman (1999)
An expansion of his story "Out There in the Darkness," The Poker Club Ed Gorman smack-dab into Cornell Woolrich territory. Aaron Tyler is a tax lawyer. Good job, nice home, attractive wife whom he truly loves, two daughters whom he also loves...he has everything he could want. He also has three friends and a weekly poker game held on a rotating basis at each person's home. This week the game is at Aaron's house. His wife and kids are visiting her parents, allowing the guys a bit more freedom to be, well, guys. The game is held in Aaron's attic so the rest of the house is dark.
There had been a number of robberies in the neighborhood and a neighborhood patrol was formed. Two members of the poker group are part of the patrol: Neil, a recent widower, and Bill, a gung ho former football player. Bill is a doctor now and Neil and Curtis, the other member of the poker club, are -- like Aaron -- lawyers. There has been talk about arming the patrol, something Bill is completely in favor of.
Curtis goes downstairs to use the bathroom and interrupts a burglary. The other three rush downstairs to find Curtis unconscious on the floor and the burglar in the kitchen with a knife. Bill also grabs a knife and faces the burglar. Aaron hears a noise from the porch and realizes there is a second burglar. He grabs a knife -- lawyers have a goodly supply of large kitchen knives, don't you know? -- and rushes out, only to be knocked down while the second burglar gets away. But the first one did not get away. After Aaron gets back inside and checks on Curtis, he finds that Bill and Neil have the burglar has been tied to a post in his cellar. Aaron wants to call the police but the other two stop him; they want to question the man first and get information on the string of burglaries. Things get out of hand and Neil and Bill start beating on the guy.
Aaron stops them and, while they are talking, the burglar manages to loosen his bonds and get away. As he runs up the stairs, Aaron grabs his leg. The burglar falls, hitting his head, and dies. Again, Aaron wants to call the police but the others talk him out of it. They had waited too long, the burglar has marks from the beating, legally, they are in deep trouble. They decide to dispose the body somewhere where it wouldn't be found for weeks. The best laid plans...
The body is found. In its back pocket is a piece of paper with Aaron's name and address on it. The police come calling. Aaron's family come home and his wife realizes that Aaron is keeping something from her, putting a heavy strain on the marriage. Members of the poker club are being followed. Then people begin to die and an attempt was made to kidnap one of Aaron's daughters. As Aaron fights to keep his marriage, his job, his law license, and his freedom, he gets drawn deeper and deeper into a quagmire partly of his own making.
The suspense and the terror increase through the final pages of this novel. The Poker Club is a whip-smart, solid book with good characterization and a driving plot.
The Poker Club was made into a very effective film in 2009 starring Jonathan Scheach with a screenplay by Schaech and Cemetery Dance publisher Richard Chizmar. In 2010, Ramble House published an omnibus volume The Poker Club: The Novel, the Chapbook and the Screenplay. (For some reason, this is no longer listed on the Ramble House homepage; it is listed, however, on Amazon.) Copies of the 2000 paperback of the novel itself are readily available through the usual online channels. If you have not read this book yet, you really need to.