Monday, March 14, 2016

Casino Consultant Tony Valentine Faces His Toughest Test Yet

This is the fifth novel in James Swain's series featuring Tony Valentine, and it's among the best in the series. Valentine is an ex-cop who now works as a consultant for casinos around the world, helping them to catch cheats. Usually this involves nothing more than Tony sitting in his recliner at his home in Florida, watching videotapes that the casinos send him and sussing out the cheater's scheme. Occasionally, though, Tony has to get out into the field and investigate things up close and personal, and this is one of those times.

Ricky Smith is a hapless loser from Slippery Rock, North Carolina, and he seems to have finally hit the end of the line one night in Las Vegas when his hotel catches on fire, trapping him on an upper floor. He has no choice but to jump from the balcony in his room and end it all quickly. But, as fate would have it, he crashes through a skylight and lands in the deep end of the hotel's swimming pool. He loses his shoes, but not his life.

Unable to believe his good fortune, he crawls out of the pool, dashes across the street into a neighboring casino and takes a seat at a blackjack table. Having lost all his money in the burning hotel, he borrows twenty bucks from a little old lady and begins to play. Racing from game to game, he cleans up everywhere. He wins at blackjack, roulette and craps. Then, as a capper to the evening, he goes into the poker room and beats the pants off a world champion player.

Those watching in disbelief, dub him "Mr. Lucky." He takes the casino for a million dollars, insisting that the miracle that allowed him to survive the fire had transformed his life. The casino is not so sure and they withhold payment, pending an investigation. Meanwhile, Ricky goes back to Slippery Rock, where his lucky streak continues unabated.

The casino hires Tony Valentine to look into things. Like the casino, Valentine simply cannot believe that anyone could have really been that lucky, miracle or not. When he can't spot anything on the videotapes, Tony reluctantly goes to Slippery Rock to investigate in person and there the sparks really begin to fly.

This is one of the most complex cases that Tony has faced yet. The usual cast of supporting characters is in place and the book is a great deal of fun, filled with action, suspense and humor doled out in just the right amounts. It's hard to imagine any fan of crime fiction who would not enjoy this book.

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