The high rollers at the Acropolis Casino are supposed to lose money, but Frank Fontaine knows entirely too much about when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. So the powers that be call on Tony Valentine, a widowed Atlantic City cop retired to Florida who makes good money studying surveillance tapes. Tony can’t see a thing either Fontaine or his dealer, Nola Briggs, is doing that looks suspicious. But convinced there’s a scam going on—and eager at any rate to avoid a threatened visit from his no-goodnik son—he agrees to come out to Las Vegas and help owner Nick Nicocropolis answer some tough questions. Who is this Frank Fontaine, and is Nola helping him bilk her boss (who turns out to be her ex-lover)? Out of all the casinos on the Strip, why has Fontaine picked the faded Acropolis to bilk out of $50,000, and what tricks does he still have up his sleeve? It’s hard to concentrate on questions like these, though, when Swain has buried them deep in a knowing, lively plot surrounded by a kidnapping, a return from the dead, a promise of May-December romance, as many curves as a Vegas showgirl, and a shower of what even the hard-bitten gambling professionals in his cast describe as epiphanies.
Even though the plot takes Tony to Vegas, its fast pace, zany humor, and genuine warmth recall the South Florida school of Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaassen, and Laurence Shames. Magician/card-handler Swain beats the odds on his very first spin of the wheel.