Monday, February 15, 2010

Review of Grift Sense by James Swain (Ballantine Books, 2001)

Tony Valentine spent thirty years as a cop policing the gaming industry in Atlantic City. Not long after retiring to Florida his beloved wife dies and he starts a new life as a consultant to casinos around the country keen to use his encyclopedic knowledge of fraudsters, cheats and their various scams. When the down at heel Acropolis Resort in Las Vegas is hit three nights in a row by a seemingly unknown player who has a knack at winning at blackjack, they contact Valentine for his opinion. The pit boss suspects the dealer, Nola, is giving tells, but the evidence isn’t so clear. Panicking the casino has Nola arrested, but it looks like she’s going to walk free and they beg Valentine to travel to Vegas to get to the bottom of the scam. At first he’s reluctant, but an impending visit from his wayward son changes his mind. Once in the boiling city, holed up in the tacky, passed-its-sell-by date Acropolis, Valentine realises that he’s been dragged into something much bigger than a simple card scam.

Grift Sense is a comic, crime caper where the only character that isn’t a caricature is Valentine. That’s just fine by me as that’s part of what makes these kinds of novels work – people who are larger than life, being too stupid, too greedy, too tainted, too mad, bad or narcissistic, and leading lives that most of us are fascinated by but wouldn’t want to emulate. Whilst the writing is quite perfunctory, the dialogue is snappy, the plotting is sound, and the story rattles along at a jaunty pace, with some nice twists and turns. Moreover, it’s clear that Swain knows the gaming world and its policing and scams well, using that knowledge to good effect. All in all, a fun book that passed a few pleasant hours.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this excellent review. Sometimes, as you say, "caricature" characters work very well, and it sounds like they do in this novel. I appreciate learning about it.