Saturday, December 19, 2009


Loaded Dice
by James Swain
Ballantine Books, 2005
MM 298 pages

Tony Valentine is an unusual character for a crime novel. That in itself is refreshing. Add a good plot or three, some fine and twisty characters, good writing and what more could you want? You do have to get by a really obvious coincidence in the early going, but it’s handled so smoothly, readers shouldn’t mind all that much.

Tony Valentine, an ex-cop has honed his sense of grift to a really high level. Retired from law enforcement, he’s now a consultant to casino operators. He teaches them how to spot cheaters of every stripe and he manages to keep track of the latest technological devices as well. That’s what brings him to Las Vegas this time, a paid consultancy to expose a new radio card reading device. Tony is also on personal business, trying to find and figure out what his wayward son is up to.

The consultancy puts Tony in the middle of a turf war between rival casino operators and his business card turns up in the hands of a murdered stripper. The stripper’s boyfriend, a local cop, figures Valentine is involved and may in fact, have killed the girl. Welcome to Valentine’s world. Smooth writing, an attractive insouciance and a slightly skewed attitude make this an enjoyable read for anyone intrigued by big-time gambling, cops and robbers with a little romance thrown in as well. Readers are advised to pay close attention to the first four chapters.

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