When last we saw Tony Valentine -- former cop, lifelong misanthrope, and legendary catcher of casino cheats -- he was just coming up for air after a close brush with the afterlife in his first outing, the acclaimed Grift Sense.
This time around, it's personal. Tony Valentine's ex-partner Doyle Flanagan has been blown to pieces by a car bomb. Shortly before his death, Doyle had been filling Valentine in on the details of his latest, most baffling case -- an impressive $6 million blackjack scam at Atlantic City's legendary Bombay casino.
Valentine determines that the only way to bring his friend's killers to justice is to crack the Bombay heist himself. But standing between Valentine and his goal is a head-spinning assortment of ruthless gangsters, crooked croupiers, eccentric millionaires, and Croatians with bad haircuts. His only ally: an irresistibly enigmatic female wrestler.
With diamond-hard prose, triple-crossing plot twists, and a deliciously noir-inflected atmosphere, Funny Money finds James Swain more than living up to his promise as a razor-sharp storyteller with unlimited surprises up his sleeve.
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.