From Publishers Weekly
In the stunning opener, gambler Ricky Smith takes a swan dive from a burning balcony into a pool as the Riverboat Casino in Vegas goes up in flames. Smith gets up, walks across the street to the Mint and proceeds to win a cool million, never losing a hand. The odds say no one's that lucky. Tony Valentine, head of Grift Sense, a gambling consulting company, gets called in to find out exactly how Ricky cheated, so the casino doesn't have to pay. For his fifth outing (Sucker Bet, etc.), Swain presents his 63-year-old retired cop with his most involved mystery yet. Readers gain expected info on chip scams, while the plot goes delightfully over the top like Agatha Christie at her wildest, with gypsies, drug cartels and one piece of misdirection after another (not least that dive from the balcony). Occasional preachiness interrupts the action, as Tony explains how awful killing bad guys makes you feel--but he still keeps shooting them in the head. The narrative nails gambling cold, noting that televised poker has convinced millions they know how to play: "Professionals had a name for these new players. They called them suckers."
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What is casino consultant Tony Valentine doing in Slippery Rock, North Carolina? Catching cheaters, of course, but this time he's stumped. Sure, Ricky Smith of Slippery Rock--who escaped a Vegas fire by jumping five stories into the pool and then, still dripping, beat the house at every game in the casino--is cheating, but how can you cheat at everything? With Tony trying to figure out the scam behind the small-town charm, his wayward son, Gerry, a former scammer himself, is running an errand for Dad and finds himself in the middle of a Mob fight in Mississippi. If all Swain had going for him was a dynamite premise--inside dope on how casino games work--this series would still be good fun, but he adds all the sinew we look for in the best caper novels: quirky characters on both sides of the law who constantly surprise us with just the right mix of comedy, violence, and humanity. Yes, that's Elmore Leonard territory, but Swain has annexed a nice little subdivision all for himself. Bill Ott
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