Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Introduction and a Farewell to Casino Gambling Consultant, Tony Valentine

This is the ninth and final installment in James Swain's series featuring Tony Valentine. For those unacquainted with the character, Valentine is a widower and an ex-cop from Atlantic City. Upon leaving the police force, he moved to Florida and opened his own consulting business, Grift Sense, in which he works with casinos to identify and deter cheaters. There's a good supporting cast of characters, including his son, Gerry, who has been a problem child from day one, and Bill Higgins, head of the Nevada Gaming Control Board's investigative unit, who frequently requests Tony's help and who has become one of his best friends. It's a very interesting and entertaining series; Valentine is a totally unique protagonist, and one of the fun things about reading the books is that they are chock full of tricks that grifters use to scam gambling games.

While this is the last book in the series, it could really be the first. This is a prequel to the other eight books and tells Tony's origins story. It opens back in 1979. Tony is still a young man in his late thirties. He's still married to his wife, Lois, and Gerry, his son, is only thirteen--an occasional pain in the ass on his way to becoming a major pain in the ass.

At this point, Tony is still a detective on the Atlantic City PD, investigating the normal run of criminal activities. But casino gambling has just arrived in A.C., and Resorts International, the first large casino, has just opened. Tony's boss details him to deal with criminal activity in the casino, including cheaters. Though his boss has a good reason for assigning him, Tony feels like this is a demotion and he's not happy about it.

Tony assumes his new responsibilities, but at the same time quietly attempts to keep a hand in an investigation he was involved with earlier. A serial killer is targeting hookers, and Tony was trying to track him down. His boss has ordered him away from the investigation, but Tony can't let it go.

As the book progresses, Tony continues to track the investigation into the serial murders while at the same time he begins to get an education into the ways in which cheaters try to con gambling games. It's a fun read, but frankly, it's not quite on a par with the other books in the series. This one will appeal principally to people who are well-acquainted with the series and who are curious about Tony's back story. Readers fresh to the series would be well-advised to begin with the first book, Grift Sense.

I've followed this series from the beginning and, as is always the case, I hate to let go of a character I've really come to enjoy. I'd hoped for a really strong ending to the series, but this book really doesn't work that well in that regard. It's somewhat disorienting to have the final book in the series set before all the others and there's a twist at the end of the book that was very hard to take seriously. For that reason, I'm giving this book three stars rather than four. It's still a good book, but the other eight in the series are better, and I'm happy to have them sitting on the shelf so that I can revisit them periodically.

A final note: For some reason, this book and the eighth in the series, Jackpot, are available only as e-books.

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