GRIFT SENSE by James Swain (see his website)
A MYSTERY INTRODUCING TONY VALENTINE
Pocket Books, June 2001
In his years working the gambling beat in Atlantic City, retired cop Tony Valentine developed a sense for cheating--something called Grift Sense. When a Las Vegas casino thinks it's getting robbed but can't figure out how, they call Valentine in as a consultant. Valentine figures out who's doing the cheating--the only problem is, the cheater was murdered months before.
Valentine has his own issues to deal with. His wife of thirty-five years recently died and he is estranged from his son. Still, when someone starts making threats, Valentine must decide between protecting his son and his friend, or continuing on with the job.
Author James Swain (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Swain) has clearly done his research and gives a fascinating inside look into how Las Vegas casinos operate, protect themselves from cheaters, and on how they can be cheated. Tony Valentine becomes a sympathetic and three-dimensional character (except when Swain overplays the tough guy image for Valentine. Unfortunately most of the remainder of Swain's characters are drawn as rough charicatures. Casino owner Nick Nicocropolis comes closest to being sympathetic with his history of failed marriages to overly-endowed beauties.
I felt cheated by Swain's portrayal of beautiful blackjack dealer Nola Briggs. Mystery authors must certainly hide information from the reader, but they should make sure that they remain true to the point of view character. Nola alternated unconvincingly from being too clever to too innocent--again okay when the action is seen from someone else's viewpoint but inappropriate when it is seen from hers.
GRIFT SENSE is an interesting, but flawed novel. Parts of it annoyed me, but I had a hard time putting it down.
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