cover image FUNNY MONEY: A Tony Valentine Novel

FUNNY MONEY: A Tony Valentine Novel

James Swain, . . Pocket, $24 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-7434-3686-1

The same warmth, honesty and inside expertise that made Grift Sense (2001) a memorable crime debut is back—in spades—in Swain's second book about ex-cop Tony Valentine, who advises gambling casinos on how to spot and stop cheaters. Swain might not be a Leonard or even a Hiaasen when it comes to a seamless writing style, but he makes up for it with insights into his characters' behavior that inevitably ring true. Tony's relationship with his hapless son, Gerry, is letter-perfect: a father's natural love warring at every turn with a hard man's distaste for weakness. No matter how often Gerry screws up, Tony finds some way to help him. This same ambivalence colors Tony's dealings with Archie Tanner, the brutal, bullying fixer who runs a vast Taj Mahal–like casino in Atlantic City and who now wants to buy his way into Florida's gambling industry. When Tony's ex-partner and lifelong friend Doyle Flanagan is killed while looking for a strange band of shabby Croatian math geniuses who are ripping off Tanner's blackjack operation, Valentine takes over the investigation. But it's not really revenge or the $1,000-a-day fee that motivates him: it's a weird but finally totally logical belief that the gambling business—which preys on human weakness—should at least be clean and honest. Stretching that analogy only a little, Swain makes Tony his Don Quixote—tilting at blackjack tables and slot machines instead of windmills. Agent, Chris Calhoun. (June 5)

Forecast:National print advertising, a three-city author tour, a blurb from Dick Lochte and the author's status as a gambling expert should help up the ante beyond that for Grift Sense. Should David Mamet take a flyer on the film option, the smart money's on Ricky Jay to play Valentine.