Jim McManus wrote Positively Fifth Street to investigate two things for Harper’s Magazine: the murder of Ted Binion, and the 2000 World Series of Poker. He tells you right up front that he mostly just wants to play in the 2000 World Series of Poker (it’s common for journalists to participate, to get a front-row seat to what they’re covering). He loves poker, and gambling, and Vegas, and despite a promise to his wife to keep “Good Jim” in the driver’s seat, “Bad Jim” takes over quite a bit as McManus gets more and more wrapped up in the insane story of Binion’s murder, and the lure of the tables.
Ted Binion’s family owns the Horseshoe in Vegas, and Binion loved to spend his money on gambling, drugs and women. The book begins with a fictionalized account of his murder by his girlfriend, Sandy Murphy, and her boyfriend (and Binion’s good friend). McManus goes to Vegas to find out more, as the two go to trial for the murder. He also participates in the WSOP, letting the reader see how everything happens in this particular event.
The book is incredibly detailed and well researched — probably easy to do when you’re researching such things as casinos, drugs and strip clubs (3 of Binion’s favorite things–and Bad Jim’s, too, it seems). There’s two pages of text about the legal requirements for G-strings in strip clubs where alcohol is served. You will probably also come away with a head full of poker terms (which might not be such a great thing — I found the poker the least interesting aspect of the whole book). But McManus’s writing is fantastic — he’s funny and self-deprecating and full of great trivia. He gives a crash course on the history of Vegas, the history of poker, and everything you could possibly need to know about the World Series. Plus, you know — the murder.
While I found myself skimming the pages detailing the poker tournament, which McManus stays in for a good amount of time, because poker is just as boring to read about as it is to watch, I still found his writing funny and engaging. He gets very involved in what he’s reporting, the murder trial as well as the poker tournament, and it makes for a great read.