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5.0 out of 5 stars A Mystery Filled With Schemes, Scams, Surprises & Suspense!, 23 May 2005
"Grift Sense" is James Swain's debut novel, and features retired Atlantic City cop Tony Valentine. Sixty-two year-old Valentine, a recent widower, lives in Palm Harbor, Florida, and runs a one-man consulting business called "Grift Sense," a term which is one of the highest compliments one hustler can pay to another. It's an old gambling expression which means "that you not only know how to do the moves, you also know when to do them." He is one of the most refreshingly original characters to enter the world of sleuth fiction in a long time, and can feel "when a hustle is going down, even if he doesn't know exactly what it is." I feel compelled to mention here that this is one very sexy senior!
When Frank Fontaine, a computer salesman from Poughkeepsie, on vacation, with no police record, blatantly cleans up the black jack table three nights straight at the Acropolis Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, there's cause for considerable concern. His winning percentage, maintained over the course of several hours for three nights in a row, is impossibly high. The guy is slick, a real pro and definitely cheating, but no on can figure out how! Dealer Nola Briggs swears she has never met Fontaine before and was not signaling him. She has worked at the Acropolis for ten years, possesses a spotless record, was even employee of the week a few times, and the surveillance films seem to back her up. Club owner, Nick Nicocropolis knows something smells rotten, and it's a lot closer than in Denmark. So, he calls in the services of old pal, Tony Valentine, whose ability to sniff-out grifters saved Atlantic City casinos millions of dollars over the years. There's no gambling con he doesn't know about and he maintains a personal database of all con artists worthy of note, living and dead. Yet, this particular scam, from what he can see on tape, is a new one. And when Tony gets close to the truth, his life and the lives of his loved ones are threatened.
Swain's narrative is well written, fast paced and filled with suspense and humor. His inside take of the gambling industry, gaming, the view from the catwalk and other surveillance measures is fascinating. The characters are wonderfully quirky, like friend and neighbor Mabel Struck, who runs daily anonymous classifieds in the St. Petersburg Times, to the delight of area subscribers, and son Gerry with whom he has had a running battle for years. The kid's a bookie, and manipulated Dad into setting him up in the business.
James Swain, is supposedly one of the best card-handlers around, a gambling expert and a professional magician. So he knows his subject matter well. He has written a most entertaining mystery full of schemes, scams and surprises. You won't be able to put this one down.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Grift Sense, 5 Dec 2012
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This was a good introduction to the character Tony Valentine - which will return in later books ( which I look forward to reading ). The Old Time Las Vegas feel that is described is spot on as there are some of the old time casinos still about in Vegas and the cons in the book are based on real cons that have happened.
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4.0 out of 5 stars a fun book that passed a few pleasant hours, 7 Aug 2012
Rob Kitchin - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Grift Sense is a comic, crime caper where the only character that isn't a caricature is Valentine. That's just fine by me as that's part of what makes these kinds of novels work - people who are larger than life, being too stupid, too greedy, too tainted, too mad, bad or narcissistic, and leading lives that most of us are fascinated by but wouldn't want to emulate. Whilst the writing is quite perfunctory, the dialogue is snappy, the plotting is sound, and the story rattles along at a jaunty pace, with some nice twists and turns. Moreover, it's clear that Swain knows the gaming world and its policing and scams well, using that knowledge to good effect. All in all, a fun book that passed a few pleasant hours.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Decent Stroll Down the Strip, 29 Oct 2001
By A Customer
if you're looking for a passable convoluted crime caper a la Elmore Leonard, set amidst the flashing lights of Vegas, look no further. This first in a projected series introduces Tony Valentine, a 62-year-old ex-cop who now works as a security consultant to casinos. His weapon is experience, his computerized database of hustlers, some judo, and the "grift sense" of the title-the ability to sense a scam. All of these serve him well as he gets called in to figure out how one the strip's seediest casinos keeps getting taken at blackjack by one man. A somewhat clumsy prologue foreshadows the discovery that the hustler is in fact renown in the casino world-and thought to be dead. From there it's a fairly average tale of rip-offs, tip-offs, and double crosses as Valentine tries to help his scuzzy employer get hit for a big score. The characters are one's we've all seen before-mostly from Vegas movies like Casino, Hard Eight, and Ocean's Eleven-a veritable lineup of idiosyncratic goons, scummy lawyers, women on the make, bent cops, reformed hustlers, sloppy lieutenants, wisecracking bartenders, and soforth. That's not to say it's not entertaining, because for the most part it is, it's just nothing particularly new. Swain tries hard to inject a subplot, with Valentine and his estranged son, but it never achieves any resonance of consequence. What is ffresh about the book is the behind the scenes casino security and scam stuff that he builds into the plot. If you're into that kind of thing, it's worth reading just for that.
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Grift Sense (Tony Valentine Novels)
Grift Sense (Tony Valentine Novels) by James Swain (Paperback - 3 Dec 2002)
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