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Mr. Lucky: A Novel of High Stakes Hardcover – March 1, 2005

46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345475445
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345475442
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,153,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Swain is the author of seventeen national bestselling novels. His books have been translated into twelve foreign languages, and chosen as Mysteries of the Year by Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Swain has received three Barry Award nominations, a Florida Book award for fiction,the prestigious Prix Calibre .38 for Best American Crime Writing, and was profiled on CBS Sunday Morning with Anthony Mason. Swain is an avid magician, and has written and lectured extensively on the subject. Visit his web site at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on May 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Swain's "Mr. Lucky" is a cleverly written, highly entertaining mystery that grabs attention from the first page and doesn't let go. Ricky Smith is the perpetual loser who uncannily strikes it rich, not just once but repeatedly, cleaning up in Vegas at Black Jack, craps, roulette, and even poker, taking a Vegas casino for a cool one-million in a single crazy night. But Smith's luck doesn't stop, as he picks a $50-grand scratch-off sweapstakes ticket and wins the annual charity raffle in hometown Slippery Rock, North Carolina. Suspecting they've been swindled, the casino hires Tony Valentine, former Atlantic City casino cop and expert in gambling scams and cons. Swain, who in real life is in fact an authority in the ways casinos can be swindled, spins a fascinating story that is as revealing as it is fun. Swain's prose is refreshing free of self-importance, breezing through the pages with an unencumbered confidence and dark humor that is easy to take. Put your feet up, sit back and enjoy Swain's guided tour through Vegas casinos and Mississippi river boat gambling barges, of hookers and Carolina hillbillies and redneck thugs, while the cagey Tony Valentine unravels "Mr. Lucky's" sudden streak of good fortune. Fiction at its finest, this was my first James Swain/Tony Valentine novel - it surely won't be my last.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John R. Linnell on April 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was my first experience with Mr. Swain's writing and his central character, Tony Valentine. It won't be my last. In fact I have already ordered all of his previous novels and if that isn't an indication of how talented this writer is as a story teller, than I don't know what is. Mr. Lucky is a book you read just for it's sheer entertainment value. Ricky Smith, a loser all of his life, has just won $20,000 gambling in Las Vegas. He has brought a georgeous babe up to his room to celebrate. She has her own ideas of celebration and tries to slip him a Mickey which he catches her at. In the midst of throwing her out of his room, he discovers the hotel on the Vegas strip is on fire. There is no escape for Ricky except to jump from his balcony. His luck continues and he survives the fall and then goes on one of the most remarkable gambling streaks that has ever been seen in Las Vegas. It is almost too good to be true, which is exactly what the casino owners in Vegas believe and his million or so dollars in winnings are held up pending an investigation. Enter Tony Valentine, owner of Grift Sense, a gambling consulting company and one of the most knowledgeable men on the face of the earth concerning scams that people try to perpetrate on casinos. Tony sets out to try and explain how such a streak of luck is a con and while he is doing it, Ricky continues his streak winning a lottery drawing and picking three winners in a horse race to show his luck is still holding.

Checking Ricky out takes Tony to Slippery Rock, NC, Ricky's sleepy home town and it takes his son on a trip to Mississippi where Ricky has bested one of the top poker players in the world in a game of Texas Hold 'Em.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Charles J. Marr on May 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In series novels there comes a time when the writer either makes or breaks. This novel is IT and if you have been following the Tony Valentine series and are considering this book - BUY IT. This is fast paced, action, wit, and just enough of the "Gizmo" (dishonest gambling) to keep you reading all night.

The dual plot (Tony and Jerry) is well developed and could be a little more interrelated, but Jerry finally becomes more than a cardboard cut out. In this novel he is in contact with his father learning the family casino detective trade by way of trial and error and with some long distance help from dad while Tony is concerned with the main plot. Enough is said in other reviews concerning the role of "Mr. Lucky" and it is a shame to tell much, but the implications of big cheating is big money and bigger schemes and Swain plays this well.

The added attraction in this novel is the consideration, not in any preaching fashion, but reflectively of the moral and ethical implications of actions: is it proper to simply cut an addicted gambler loose, what is the role of the community in developing a gambling culture, what harm comes to innocents? And in a modern society, how does all this lead to violence? Swain does not preach, but like Tony he knows cause and effect. Come to think of it, logical analysis is very much in the center of his writing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Craig VINE VOICE on March 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Easily the best in the Tony Valentine series, this is one worth discovering even for those who haven't read the previous series titles. This time around, Valentine is hired to figure out how Ricky Smith (the Mr. Lucky of the title) is turning everything he touches to gold.

Valentine is a rarity among protagonists, an older gentleman who manages to hold his own pretty well, while still managing to seem human and vulnerable. Too many characters in such novels seem to possess almost superhuman abilities, but Valentine is a fallible hero. The other characters aren't flushed out as well as Tony, but they're still interesting.

The action is paced well, scenes of physical altercations interspersed nicely with thought and discussion. One minor complaint I have is that the dialogue sometimes seems stilted, but it doesn't detract from enjoyment of the novel.

I'd recommend this for anyone who likes a fast-paced read with some mystery thrown in the mix. It's a truly enjoyable book with an excellent lead character. And you really can't beat that price!
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