Synopsis Example: “House of Games” (Noir / Mainstream)

Here’s another example of a fiction summary, which can be used as a guide for writing your novel synopsis. (See all my synopsis examples here.) This time it’s House of Games (1987). This story is not quite crime fiction nor literary fiction so I call it mainstream, but it definitely has plenty of noir in it. Notice how this synopsis moves fast, but we still see important things: who the main character is, what they want, how they change, the inciting incident, the break into Act II, the denouement, etc.



MARGARET FORD is a successful psychiatrist and self-help book writer who lives a comfortable life. One day, she’s in a session with a compulsive gambler who informs her that he owes money to a criminal figureand if he doesn’t pay, he will be killed. Margaret visits a pool hall and confronts the criminal figure, MIKE. Margaret sizes Mike up as a tough talker, but not a gangster. Mike agrees to forgive the debt if Margaret accompanies him to a poker game posing as his girlfriend, using her to help spot the tell of another gambler.

Exhilarated at the chance, Margaret even volunteers $6,000 when she’s “sure” Mike’s opponent is bluffing. But not only does the opponent have a winning hand, he also brandishes a gun, demanding his winnings. Margaret sees the pistol is fake and realizes the whole setup is a condesigned to scam her. Mike and his men see the jig is up, and nonchalantly pack up the con and leave. Mike apologizes, saying it was “only business …nothing personal.”

Back in her normal routine, Margaret continues to think about her night at the pool hall. She returns, proposing that she follow Mike around and write a book on the experience. He shows her first-hand how a con game works. Her fascination grows. The pair end up making love. Margaret begs to participate in an actual con. Mike hesitantly agrees.

Mike takes Margaret on a con in a hotel room involving a briefcase full of $80,000 (real money), designed to swindle a businessman (the “mark”). Everything goes as planned, but Margaret sees that the businessman has a gun and radio. The man reveals himself as a cop and a struggle ensues. The cop accidentally shoots himself and collapses. Margaret and Mike steal a car and barely escape before police arrive, but quickly realize they left the $80,000 at the hotel. Mike must leave the country because the money belonged to the mob and is now good as gone. Margaret, who has fallen for Mike and fears for his safety, as well as her own, offers to replace the money and does.

Later, Margaret senses something isn’t quite right from that night. She spies on the con men at the pool hallamong whom is the “dead” cop/markand confirms that everything was a ruse to get $80,000 from her. Margaret gets a gun and confronts Mike at the airport, coaxing him into an abandoned area. She reveals she knows the score, but Mike tells her there’s nothing she can do about it. Margaret pulls out her gun and shoots him. Mike dies.

Much later, Margaret has gone on with her life, a changed woman, finally able to “forgive herself.” She shows no sign of guilt or remorse for murdering Mike. She steals a gold lighter out of the purse of another woman in a restaurant and relishes the acquisition.

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