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by James Swain
Pocket Books, June 2002
304 pages
ISBN: 0743436865

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Casino security consultant Tony Valentine returns to the world of casino cheats in the follow up to the superb Grift Sense, and I'm pleased to say that Funny Money is just as enjoyable.

Tony's friend and ex-partner, PI Doyle Flanagan, is killed by a car bomb in Atlantic City while he's talking to Tony on the phone. That makes it personal for Tony, he's going to investigate this one even it kills him, and it just might. Doyle was working on a casino scam before he was killed, so Tony takes over his case and sets out to find the scammers, led by the mysterious European, who may well also be the killers. Added to the mix is Tony's no-good son, who has lost $50,000 and his bar in a crooked football bet, and now has a team of mobsters gunning for him and his girlfriend. And just to keep things interesting there's Tony's old judo teacher, and a judo practising lady wrestler who turn into an unlikely, but likeable pair of sidekicks. Stir them all together and the end result is an almost Hiaasen style romp through the Atlantic City underworld in a race to solve the crimes and save several lives - including Tony's own.

Once again the characterization is excellent, beginning with Tony who at 62 makes a refreshing change from the young super-fit investigators that we often see in crime fiction. I was pleased to see Tony's lady neighbour take on a larger role, she becomes his assistant in this book, and her delight as she learns how to recognize simple scams is quite infectious. Along with the plot twists the characters also undergo some interesting changes and Swain has cleverly set the stage for the future involvement of all the main characters.

Funny Money is a very fast paced read with an action packed finale, and I devoured it in half a day. Some suspension of disbelief is required, and there is a higher level of violence, but I was having so much fun that I barely noticed the improbabilities in the final scenario, and the whole thing worked very well. The plot strengths are in the casino scams, Swain's field of expertise, and in that area he is captivating. Quite a bit of Funny Money is anecdotal as Valentine consults with casinos over various small scams, the insider look at cheating methods is fascinating stuff, and I'm sure that Swain has a lot more stories up his sleeve for future books.

So far I'm finding this series to be full of freshness and originality, I love the concept and the characters are fun to spend some time with. A pair of aces from Swain, and I have a feeling that this particular deck will produce plenty more. Highly recommended.

James Swain has a web site at http://www.jimswain.com

Reviewed by Paul Richmond, November 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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