cover image Deadman's Poker

Deadman's Poker

James Swain, . . Ballantine, $6.99 (358pp) ISBN 978-0-345-47549-7

Gambling expert, casino consultant and retired cop Tony Valentine is back, along with his grifter-made-good son, Gerry, in the satisfying sixth installment of Swain's cards-and-cons thriller series (after Mr. Lucky ). Gerry's lifelong friend Jack Donovan tells Gerry he's concocted an undetectable scheme that "can beat any poker player in the world," but dies before he can let Gerry in on it. Though ruled a suicide, Gerry is convinced Jack was murdered. Gerry's investigation leads him and his reluctant father to the World Poker Showdown in Las Vegas, where they encounter tournament darling Skip DeMarco, the legally blind nephew of a notorious mobster. Every expert Tony and Gerry speak with thinks Skip is cheating, but no one can prove it—making the Valentine boys wonder to whom Jack may have told his secret before he died. As always, Swain makes his encyclopedic mastery of gambling lore and technique look easy, and he handles Gerry and Tony's turbulent relationship with thought and humor, giving weight to the parallel dynamic between Skip and his Mafia uncle. Though many of the other supporting characters are forgettable, Swain's knowledge of the con, and of his leads, make this novel a pleasure. (May)