cover image LOADED DICE: A Tony Valentine Novel

LOADED DICE: A Tony Valentine Novel

James Swain, . . Ballantine, $22.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-345-46326-5

Swain's fourth Tony Valentine novel (after 2003's Sucker Bet ) starts out on a wacky, breezy note, but the horror of a threatened terrorist attack that develops in a subplot jars in a tale centered on the seedy world of gambling and more mundane crimes like (non-mass-) murder and robbery. Tony Valentine, a retired Atlantic City cop who helps gambling casinos catch swindlers, travels to Las Vegas to show three casino owners how blackjack players use a new high-tech device to cheat. He's also checking up on his feckless son Gerry, in town to learn about illegal card-counting so he can join Tony's business. But Tony's three clients have also hired Frank Fontaine—a world-class card sharp and Tony's longtime enemy, who has FBI connections—to run a scam that will close a casino owned by Tony's friend Nick Nicocropolis. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Gerry, two new foreign friends have links to al Qaeda. An expert on casino swindles, the author packs his books with mind-boggling cons and scams—how to do them and stop them—along with entertaining dialogue and vivid characters, notably the strong, sympathetic Tony. No doubt many readers will be attracted to the timely terrorist element, but those expecting another fast-paced gambling romp may be disappointed to see Tony sidetracked. Agent, Chris Calhoun at Sterling Lord Literistic. 10-city author tour. (June 1)