From the outset of this memoir, the reader is informed that the author has had a gambling problem.
Opening with a clandestine meeting between the author Dennis Hart and a pudgy bookie to hand over fifteen thousand dollars (the fifteen thousand being “just a dent” in the author’s overall gambling debts), it becomes clear that bookies and idling Cadillacs will play center stage in this story of theft and addiction.
For Hart, what had once been a mild interest in sports gambling became a full blown obsession and his ultimate downfall. How exactly does someone who could pass for any ordinary office worker steal millions of dollars and gamble it all away? The explanation comes in three hundred some pages of losses, lies, and brushes with elements ranging from the IRS to Boston mobsters.
Having married, had children, and divorced at a young age, money has always been a very real problem for Hart. Though he was able to earn an honest living as an accountant, there always seemed like there might be a better way to make more money. After dabbling in the stock market and football betting with some degree of success, Hart became convinced that he may just have a viable knack for risk taking. It is not until a series of losing streaks prove him wrong that the problem becomes not so much how to make more money as how to cover previous losses. It is then that he turned to stealing.
Manipulating checks and other paperwork in order to steal directly from his employer, Hart found a seemingly endless supply for his addiction. As more and more gambling losses turned to more and more stealing (and more and more gambling) the cycle built over years. It is not until he was caught that the true devastation of his habit could be calculated. With his thefts totaling in the millions of dollars (not counting the money that he still owed various bookies), he is subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to a prison camp in Pennsylvania.
Told as it is from the perpetrator himself, the narrative of Life Minus 3 1/2 can occasionally dip into moments of self pity. As the author is keen to point out, he never steals (and gambles) for his own personal gain, only to help to provide for his family. While we would all undoubtedly like to provide better for our families, very few of us turn to stealing millions of dollars. Such an argument proves a poor way to garner sympathy however as an insight into the mind of a true addict, it is worthwhile.
What Life Minus 3 1/2 lacks in polish it often makes up for in realism. Occasional similes do not add much (e.g. “When the stock market goes sideways or down, options depreciate as quickly as a fly dive-bombing into a steaming pile of poop”) however, the story manages to move at a swift and believable pace.
How could someone steal and subsequently gamble away millions of dollars? How could they lie to their family, their employer, and their bookies for years? The answers that are found in these pages are not always pretty but they are certainly explained.
For readers interested in the mind of a white collar criminal and gambling addict, the book proves to be required reading.
Reviewed by Collin Marchiando for IndieReader