I like a mystery novel that seems to give you an in to a new world. This is the case with the Tony Valentine mystery novel series by James Swain. Tony Valentine is an ex-cop who specializes in catching casino cheats and Grift Sense, like other books in the series, takes you behind the casino and gambling scene, first in Las Vegas. James Swain adds a bit of humor with secondary characters such as Mabel, a little old lady who puts strange personal ads in the local paper, and odd bits of dialogue here and there to keep you entertained.
Grift Sense, the first Tony Valentine mystery, is a good introduction to the series as the reader gets to know Valentine and the people who, in later novel, will form his Grift Sense team of consultants. Here, Valentine is hired by Nick Nicocropolis, owner of the fading Acropolis casino in Las Vegas. The Acropolis, most famous for One Armed Billy, a slot machine with a 26 million dollar potential payoff, has been taken for quite a few dollars by a blackjack player named Frank Fontaine. Valentine has to figure out how Fontaine is cheating, if the dealer, Nora Briggs, is in on it, and what else may be going on behind the con. Of course, Valentine is not the only one interested in the events at the casino and he gets warned off by an anonymous message.
This mystery works because there are many plot twists that work and keep the story going. The con itself, the grift, being played on the casino is world class so the duel between Tony Valentine and the con man very interesting. I doubt any reader figures this one out before Valentine does and this is not because Swain is using a marked deck or loaded dice.
Having read a couple of other Tony Valentine mysteries by James Swain, I must admit other efforts did not thrill me as much. Perhaps because the novelty of this first novel's setting and topic does not transfer to the following books.
Other novels in the Tony Valentine mystery series: