Tuesday, October 28, 2008


James Swain is listed on CardCheaters.com as "a skilled sleight-of-hand magician who specializes in gambling and cheating techniques. He is also an expert on cons and scams." Swain first parlayed this knowledge into a successful and highly entertaining series of thrillers starring Tony Valentine. Valentine is a retired Atlantic City cop, an expert in cons, scams, and grifts, who now freelances helping casinos to catch cheaters, card counters, and anyone else who figures out a way to game the system. The Tony Valentine novels have ranged from Atlantic City to South Florida (Swain's, and now Valentine's home) to Las Vegas, and as well as being fairly taut thrillers offer interesting insight into the world of professional gambling and gambling addiction.

Jack Carpenter, the lead in The Night Stalker, is also an ex-cop. His specialty is missing persons; in particular, he finds kids. Midnight Rambler (I don't know about you, but I couldn't not hear Mick and the boys singing in my head the entire time I was reading the book...good thing it moved quickly) introduced Carpenter at his lowest: booted off the force, his wife having left him, living in a seedy apartment above a run-down bar on the beach. The one bright spot in his life: Buster, the Australian Shepherd he's just adopted who turns out to be a natural at detecting and running down bad guys. What can I say? I love a book with a good dog hero.

In Midnight Rambler Jack Carpenter butted heads with his former employers, showed them up, and got the bad guys pretty much on his own. It was a winning formula, and Swain employs it again this time around. The Night Stalker opens with Carpenter being hired by Abb Grimes, a convicted serial killer just four days from execution. Abb's grandson has been kidnapped as a message to him to stop cooperating with the FBI. The apparently bungling police, in conjunction with the FBI, have focused on Jed, Abb's son, as the perpetrator. Carpenter is positive that in targeting Jed Grimes the police are putting the child's life in further danger; naturally, he bucks authority and follows his own, ultimately correct course to find the real kidnappers.

Jack Carpenter is a good character: he has knowledge and experience, a wry sense of humor, he loves his dog and he loves his family. He has his faults: he drinks too much and he's too cocky. I only wish--along with the people he works with--that he would be wrong once in a while. It would round this character out nicely.

Now reading: The Unpossessed City by Jon Fassman (although I may put it unceremoniously aside in favor of the new Nelson DeMille, which hits bookstores today).

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