James Swain writes fun books. I can't imagine anyone who would not enjoy his latest. It's the third novel featuring Tony Valentine, a retired former cop who now works as a casino consultant catching cheaters. He's a little older than your usual protagonist, but that only makes him more endearing. He's a pretty well developed character as well. His difficulty interacting with his son and his neglect of his caring neighbor show the reader that he is far from perfect. However, what he does is catch cheats, or crossroaders as Swain calls them, and at that, he is very good indeed.
Swain's books are worth reading if only for the insight into the world of scams, cheats, and hustlers that he gives us. Each of his three books revolves around Valentine's investigation of a major scam. In Sucker Bet, it begins with a blackjack hustle but moves quickly into a major college sports scandal. While he is investigating, Tony frequently gets calls from worried customers asking him to look at security video or inventory lists and determine how their casino is getting scammed. These little episodes, while not really part of the plot, are some of the best parts of the book.
Aside from the scams and grifts, hidden in each of his books is a pretty good mystery too. People end up dead and Tony in drawn in through his inevestigation. As with most novels of this type, Valentine's life and the lives of those he cares about are endangered. While there are better mytery novels out there, few can match the originality of James Swain.
Sucker Bet also includes perhaps one of the best characters I've ever read about. He is a chimpanzee named Mr. Beauregard, and he is amazing. I won't give too much away, but if you can keep yourself from laughing when Mr. Beauregard starts his Western "hurry-up" music, you need to lighten up.
In all, Sucker Bet is an slightly above average mystery novel with enough good character development, originality, and fun to make it worth reading for almost everyone. It might help to read the others in the series first (Grift Sense, Funny Money) but this could be read as a standalone as well. Swain is a fine novelist and I'm looking forward to more of his work. If you like this one, keep an eye out for the fourth Tony Valentine novel, set in his cop days of the late 70's, due out in 2004.