When it came to bad relationships, he had no equal, and Valentine couldn’t help but like him, even though he liked practically nothing about him.
James Swain writes novels about cheating in the gambling world, based on the expertise of a magician. I took a chance on Grift Sense, the first book in his Tony Valentine series, because I thought it might be interesting to peek into that world.
Tony Valentine is a former Atlantic City cop who knows just about everything there is to know about gambling cheats. He’s retired in Florida now, but casino owners still send him surveillance tapes, so he can study them and identify some particularly clever scam.
He gets a request from Nick Nicocropolis, who owns the Acropolis casino in Las Vegas, once a premiere venue, now aging and on its last legs. A guy has come in twice and won big. Too big for the odds. And the video offers no explanation for his “luck.” Tony doesn’t care for Nick much, but he accepts his offer to fly out to Sin City for two reasons – one is the challenge. The other is to avoid his estranged son Gerry, whom he wants to avoid just now.
Tony will learn, after a lot of looking, that Nick has a bigger problem than just a single card shark. Something major is being planned, a crime that will shake Vegas and destroy Nick – unless Tony can stop it.
There was a lot to like in Grift Sense. Author Swain plots with the instincts of a sleight-of-hand artist, equipped with big surprises up his sleeve. He’s also a good writer, capable of turning out a pretty good sentence. His characters are interesting and layered.
But I won’t be reading any more. I find that I just don’t like the world of gambling. It’s full of predators, and cynicism is the only sensible attitude. The nicest, most sympathetic people are either victims or con artists. I feel no desire to revisit that world.
You might have a different response. If so, this is a pretty good book.