Grift Sense (Tony Valentine Novels)

Swain, James

Published by Pocket, 2002
ISBN 10: 0743406230 / ISBN 13: 9780743406239
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Synopsis: In the world of cheating, professional hustlers and cross-roaders (people who cheat casinos) pride themselves on their ability to sense when a scam is going down. Having this ability is the ultimate gift, and is called 'grift sense'. The Acropolis is a casino that has seen better days: it's quickly falling out of pace with the rest of Las Vegas. Its one big tourist attraction is One-Armed Billy, a cigar-store Indian turned slot machine. When a blackjack player starts to win consistently against the casino, the owner gets suspicious and calls in crusty Tony Valentine to investigate. A sixty-two-year-old retired cop with a unique understanding of the mechanics of high-stakes gambling, wonderfully misanthropic Tony also specializes in spotting and hunting down "grifters". Valentine soon finds himself embroiled in a fascinating but lethal world of hustlers, hit men and corrupt police, and he'll need more than luck to come out of it alive.

Review: Penzler Pick, July 2001: The first four pages of this casino-themed debut are smashing--literally. Then James Swain, himself a gambling expert and professional magician, gets to the real story, and at that point, the plot starts churning out more twists than a corkscrew factory on overtime. Soon the characters are so enmeshed in their own self-serving lies, scams, and schemes that the only thing for a reader to do is just take a deep breath and let the steady barrage of surprises wash over him.

There's no point in saying "take a deep breath and enjoy the scenery," because in Swain's Las Vegas, what one gazes upon is most likely to be a casino's gambling floor as viewed from security monitors. "Watching surveillance videos," he explains, "is a unique experience. The cameras filtered twice as much light as the human eye, and as a result hairpieces looked like rugs, cheap suits took on zebra stripes, and women wearing red dresses became naked. It was like entering the Twilight Zone."

All too familiar with this eerie, totally paranoid, 24/7 universe is one-time Atlantic City cop Tony Valentine, who now runs a one-man consulting business he calls Grift Sense. To say of someone that he has that particular form of larcenous intuition, the author tells us, is "the highest compliment" one hustler can pay another. Grift sense means "that you not only knew how to do the moves, you also knew when to do them."

And even if Valentine is 62 and settled in Florida, away from the action, he's never lost his ability to "feel when a hustle's going down, even if (he doesn't) know exactly what it is." That's why the Acropolis Resort & Casino is determined to lure him West to check out what looks like funny business going on between blond blackjack dealer Nola Briggs and a player named Frank Fontaine, who happens to be winning a little too steadily. Swain's easy expertise with the world of gaming and gamblers makes Grift Sense into a fascinating guidebook, as well as a vivid debut in a series that so far has a flavor all its own. --Otto Penzler

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Title: Grift Sense (Tony Valentine Novels)
Publisher: Pocket
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Very Good

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