Cracking good crime thriller that resurrects both the gambling hero of Kakonis's Michigan Roll (1988) and the exhilaratingly tough yet deeply humane storytelling that made that first novel one of the most memorable in recent crime fiction. While his canny older partner Bennie Epstein is in Chicago trying to mollify Carl Dietz, the top mobster that Timothy Waverly burned for 500,000 ``balloons'' in Michigan Roll, Waverly is holed up in a shoddy Palm Beach motel--not the kind of place to show off to Caroline Crown, the childhood sweetheart he runs into on a nearby street. But Waverly soon has bigger concerns than a rekindled old flame, even if she is married to his oldest friend: Dietz wants to be paid back in full, with a heavy interest, and- -Waverly correctly suspects--plans to ice the gambler and his pal anyway after the two-week payback period is over. In fact, Dietz has set on Waverly's tail two shooters--anal-retentive, super-slick muscleman D'Marco Fontaine, and D'Marco's ``cross to bear,'' slobby, shlubby apprentice Sigurd Stumpley--whose odd-couple squabblings give the high-energy narrative some of the most inspired dark-slapstick moments this side of Carl Hiaasen. With D'Marco and Sig shadowing his every move, Waverly still manages bittersweetly to romance the unhappily married Caroline and to get her husband to introduce him to some high-rolling businessmen- -portrayed with an acid pen by Kakonis--and to their backer, a card-sharking-and-cheating Arab prince. In a series of high-tension poker marathons, Waverly watches his chance to pay back Dietz-- who's meanwhile flown to Palm Beach to monitor the kill--rise and then fall to nothing--leading to a wild chase-and-shoot in a deserted hotel, and a brutal, high-body-count climax. Naggingly similar in plot to Michigan Roll, but even more inspired in its wry and compassionate portrait of desperate men: any way you cut it, this one comes up aces.