Funny Money (Tony Valentine Series #2)

Funny Money (Tony Valentine Series #2)

4.6 5
by James Swain

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Tony Valentine has a gift for grift: He can walk into a casino and spot a cheater across a crowded floor. A man who still uses pay phones and won’t spend more than a buck for coffee, Tony has protected Atlantic City gambling palaces for twenty years and learned every trick of the trade—until a new one blows him away.

With his old partner murdered


Tony Valentine has a gift for grift: He can walk into a casino and spot a cheater across a crowded floor. A man who still uses pay phones and won’t spend more than a buck for coffee, Tony has protected Atlantic City gambling palaces for twenty years and learned every trick of the trade—until a new one blows him away.

With his old partner murdered in a bomb blast, Tony returns to A.C. to retrace Doyle Flanagan’s last case. Investigating a six-million-dollar casino takedown, a square cop soon meets a whole lot of bent people, from a beautiful lady wrestler to some Manhattan mobsters; from a trio of beautiful casino “consultants” to a team of Eurotrash blackjack card counters. But while everyone around Tony Valentine (including Tony’s own son) is playing some kind of angle, Tony is determined to find a killer who is playing for keeps. . . .

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Los Angeles Times

“Writing about a world where everyone is on the take, Swain has a soft spot for colorful characters. . . . [H]is direct style works just fine.”
The New York Times Book Review

—St. Petersburg Times

Publishers Weekly
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. Agent, Chris Calhoun. (June 5) Forecast: National print advertising, a three-city author tour, a blurb from Dick Lochte and the author's status as a gambling expert should help up the ante beyond that for Grift Sense. Should David Mamet take a flyer on the film option, the smart money's on Ricky Jay to play Valentine. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Former policeman Tony Valentine (Grift Sense) operates a gambling casino protection service out of his Florida home. When his former partner and best friend now a PI is murdered in Atlantic City, Tony vows vengeance on the "European," the elusive and resourceful scam artist his friend was investigating. Tony contacts the casino, which has been bilked of $6 million, and goes to work with surveillance tapes and his own personal network of contacts. Though hampered at times by his adversarial son, Mafia types, and others, Tony wins his game. A smooth narrative, credible situations, and a nervy plot make this second Tony Valentine mystery a highly recommended choice for most mystery collections. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Most of the mechanics who try to cheat the house take a powder the minute clouds of suspicion rise. But the European with the bad haircut who's been scamming The Bombay, Archie Tanner's Atlantic City casino, doesn't vanish; he kills. Because the victim is not only Tony Valentine's old friend and ex-cop partner, Doyle Flanagan, but the guy who was talking to Tony on a cell phone about his suspicions when his car blew up, Tony's eager to fly back from his Florida retirement home to his old stamping grounds and go after the European. So it works out beautifully that Frank Porter, The Bombay's surveillance chief, is under strict orders to hire Tony's consulting firm (Grift Sense, 2001) to figure out how the scam is worked. No sooner is Tony back in town than other complications arise. His worthless son Gerry, heavily in debt to some serious mobsters, has agreed to hand over a bar his father owns in repayment. And his old martial-arts teacher Master Yun wants him to stop a wayward student calling herself the Judo Queen from desecrating a dojo robe emblazoned with a sacred crane by wearing it into the pro wrestling ring. It's nice for Tony that one of these cases will bring him some major headaches among local scumbags, as well as a new ladylove, before he figures out the secret behind the brilliantly simple Bombay scam. Despite an improbably high villain count, even for Atlantic City: solid, spirited second case from an author who dishes out professional anecdotes as generously as Edna Buchanan.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Tony Valentine Series, #2
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.16(w) x 6.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Heat

"Crossroaders see the world differently than the rest of us," Tony Valentine was saying to his neighbor over dinner in his kitchen. Buttering real butter onto his roll, he took a healthy bite. "Don't remind me, bad for my heart, but I've got to have the real taste now and again. Makes life worth living, if you know what I mean."

"What's a crossroader?" Mabel Struck asked.

"A crossroader is a name for a hustler or a cheat. It comes from the Old West practice of cheating at saloons that were located at the crossroads of one-horse towns."

"I presume so the cheater could make a hasty getaway."

"Exactly. So where was I?"

"You were painting an altogether ugly picture of the people you put behind bars," his neighbor said sweetly.

"Right. Crossroaders live a lie twenty-four hours a day. You know the worst thing that can happen to a crossroader?"

Spooning a forkful of homemade lasagna into her mouth, Mabel shook her snow-white head no.

"Getting heat."

"Is that like getting hives?"

"No. When you get heat, it means someone suspects you. And once someone suspects you, you can't move in a game. So crossroaders do everything imaginable not to get heat."

Mabel, who had never gambled, was slow to catch on. She was more impressed with his colorful stories of celebrities he'd met during his twenty-plus years protecting Atlantic City's casinos than the nuts and bolts of his profession.

"Give me an example," she said.

Valentine scratched his chin, trying to think of an example that would not confuse her. "Have you ever played poker?"

"My late husband used to hold Friday night poker games at thehouse. I didn't play, but I understand the rules."

"Good. Let's say a crossroader is playing in your late husband's Friday night game. Between hands, he secretly palms out a pair of kings, and sticks them under his leg. A minute later, another player takes the deck and counts the cards. 'This deck is short,' he says. What does the crossroader do?"

Mabel gave it some serious thought. "I know. He says, 'Let me see those cards!' And he grabs the deck and adds the two kings."

"Very good."

She clapped her hands. "Am I right?"

"You most certainly are. What does he do then?"

"He counts them."

"Right again. Now for the big test. What does he say after he counts them?"

Mabel hesitated, clearly stumped.

"What would you say?" Valentine asked her.

"I'd say, 'You must have counted wrong. There are fifty-two.'" Mabel brought her hand to her mouth. "Wait. That would narrow it down to the two of us, wouldn't it?"

"It would," Valentine conceded.

"And that would bring heat, to use your expression."


"All right, I give up. What does the crossroader say?"

"He says, 'You're right, there are only fifty cards.' And he pushes the deck to the center of the table. By agreeing with the first player, he takes the heat off himself."

"What does he do then?"

"He waits," Valentine said.

"For what?"

"Another player will inevitably pick up the deck and count them, and he'll say, 'Wait a minute, there's fifty-two.' And that will put all the heat on him."

Mabel made a funny face.

"No wonder you like putting these people in jail," she said.

Valentine escorted Mabel home. It was a beautiful place, this town on the west coast of Florida they'd both retired to, the breeze filled with the Gulf of Mexico's warm spirits. As they walked the hundred yards that separated their New England-style clapboard houses, they stopped to inspect a brand new Lexus parked in a neighbor's driveway, the sales sticker prominently displayed in the side window. They were of the generation that were greatly fascinated not only by the astronomical cost of things these days, but also by people stupid enough to fork out the money.

At Mabel's house they stopped again, this time to smell the seductive night-blooming jasmine in her front yard.

"Are we a couple of squares or what?" she said.

"I like being a square," he said.

"You could have fooled me."

"What do you mean?"

"Your life is exciting. I envy you."

Going inside, he did a quick tour of the downstairs, then checked the back door and windows. Being old made you a target, and he feared that Mabel would one day lose her valuables to a burglar. He found her waiting in the foyer.

"Everything's shipshape," he said. "You know, you really ought to consider getting a dog."

It was a conversation they'd had many times. Mabel was going to get a dog when she was good and ready. She gave him a peck on the cheek. "Thanks for the fun evening."

"You're welcome. Listen, I've got a proposition for you."

"What's that?"

"How would you like to come work for me? I need someone to answer the phone and act as a buffer with clients. You could even help me with some cases."

Mabel hesitated. She liked Tony and sensed that he liked her. But he lived in a different world, one that she was not sure she'd be comfortable in.

"But I don't know anything about casinos or cheating."

"No, but you're one of the best judges of character I've ever met, and that's half the battle when it comes to spotting crossroaders. I'll teach you the basics. It'll be fun."

"You think so?"

"I do."

He was making it sound easy. If Tony had impressed anything upon her, it was that crossroaders weren't like other criminals. They used sophisticated sleight-of-hand, cameras, and hidden computers to commit their crimes. They were smart people, and it took even smarter people to catch them.

"Do you have any books I can read, so I don't sound too stupid answering your phone?"

"I've got a whole library."

"And you promise to help with the technical stuff?"

"I will."

Mabel hesitated and saw him smile. He was going to make it fun, she realized. She gave him another peck on the cheek.

"It sounds wonderful," she said.

Valentine was settling into the La-Z-Boy in his living room when the phone rang. He never answered the phone, preferring to let the caller go into voice mail and leave a message. He considered it one of the great perks of working for himself.

The ringing stopped. He waited a minute, then dialed into voice mail. The message was from Doyle Flanagan, his ex-partner in Atlantic City. He dialed Doyle's cell number and caught his friend as he exited a McDonald's drive-through.

"Don't you ever go home?"

Doyle had retired from the force six months after him. Finding it impossible to live on his pension, he'd gone to work as a private investigator. "I wish. You have a chance to look at the surveillance tape I overnighted?"

"Sure did."

"Aw, for the love of Christ," Doyle said.

"What's wrong?"

"The bitch shortchanged me."

Valentine listened as Doyle went back through the drive-through and argued with the cashier, letting his hamburger go cold over twenty-five cents. Doyle's tape was still in Valentine's VCR, and he picked up the remote and hit play.

The tape was from The Bombay, the largest casino in Atlantic City. It annoyed him that New Jersey Gaming Control let its casinos record at extended play in order to conserve tape. It made the tapes hard to view and was a strain on the eyes.

The Bombay tape showed six people sitting at a blackjack table. The player in question -- who Doyle had identified in a note as being European -- was in his late thirties and had hair that stuck out at odd angles, like electricity was playing with it. He was winning big, his nervous mannerisms suggesting his play was not on the square.

"You think he's cheating?" Doyle asked.

"He sure acts guilty," Valentine said.

"Guy sweats a lot, doesn't he?"

"Like a whore in church."

Doyle dropped his cell phone. Picking it up, he said, "I've broken so many cell phones Liddy finally bought me one made of stainless steel. Any idea what he's doing?"

"I've got a couple of theories."

"I really want to bust this joker," Doyle said.

His partner was challenging him. Valentine watched the European play a few more hands. He heard his partner humming along to a song on his radio. Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey."

"Got it," Valentine said.

"What's he doing?" Doyle said.

"I've been watching the way he places his bets. When he bets big, he's very direct. It's like, bam, here's my money. He knows he's going to win the hand."

"How's he doing that?"

"He's got a partner at the table marking the high cards," Valentine said. "The European is at first base, which means the top card for each round is his first card. Whenever he sees a marked card at the start of a round, he bets heavy."

"But he doesn't know what his second card will be," Doyle said.

"No, and he might lose sometimes. But over the course of an evening, he'd have an unbeatable edge."

"Who's marking the cards?"

Valentine stared at the other five players at the table. Marking cards is a felony in New Jersey and punishable by four and a half years in prison. His eyes locked on a chain-smoking beauty that reminded him of a young Audrey Hepburn.

"The lady at third base," Valentine said. "She's as tight as a drum."

"You're a genius," Doyle said.

"How much is The Bombay into these crooks for?"

"Six million."

"Come on, be serious."

Doyle coughed into the phone. Valentine sat up straight in his recliner. Casinos got ripped off every day -- Las Vegas lost a hundred million each year -- but it went out the door in dribs and drabs. Big scores happened, but mostly through card counters. As far as he knew, no hustler had ever stolen six million from any single casino. It was too much money.

"You're positive about this," Valentine said.

"The casino confirmed it. Uh-oh," Doyle said, starting his engine.

"Something wrong?"

"Looks like I've got company."


"The European. I made his white van yesterday when he was leaving The Bombay."

"Get the hell out of there."

Doyle's tires screeched as he threw the car into reverse. "Shit, the passenger window is going down..."

"Get the hell out of there!"

"Someone's pointing something at me. Looks like a transistor radio...."

Valentine started to say something, then heard a loud Boom! that sounded like a thousand doors being slammed. He yelled into the phone, but his partner did not reply. He could faintly hear people screaming inside the McDonald's. He waited for someone to come outside, pick up the phone, and tell him what in God's name was happening.

Then Doyle's cell phone died.

Valentine called every cop he knew in Atlantic City. After ten minutes he found one who was on duty, and got put on hold. He began to pray. In his mind, he knew what had happened. Could picture it as clearly as the hand in front of his face. Yet it took hearing the cop coming back on the line and saying, "Tony, I'm sorry." before he accepted the fact that his best friend of forty years was dead.

The cop stayed on the line, trying to console him. Valentine struggled to say something, but the words weren't there. His eyes started to burn. Then the room got very small.

Then he put the phone down and cried.

Copyright © 2002 by James Swain

Meet the Author

James Swain, a gambling expert, is the author of Grift Sense, Funny Money, and Sucker Bet. Swain is considered one of the best card handlers in the world. He lives in Odessa, Florida, where he is currently working on his next mystery featuring Tony Valentine. Visit his Web site at

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4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
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harstan More than 1 year ago
Retired cop Tony Valentine supplements his pension by exposing grifters at the Las Vegas casinos. He figures he needs the extra income because his son is always hitting him for a ¿loan¿ to pay off a questionable debt or two.

Tony¿s former partner Doyle Flanagan is in the same line of work currently employed in Atlantic City. Doyle calls Tony to tell him about his current case involving a six million-dollar scam at the Bombay Casino. While on the phone together, a bomb explodes killing Doyle. Tony takes this personally and decides he must bring his partner¿s killers to justice, his style. He knows the prime path to identify the murderers is through the Bombay Casino besides which he believes that the corrupt gambling industry needs periodic cleansing so that the mark is not illegally fleeced.

The second Tony Valentine tale lives up to the fabulous debut novel, GRIFT SENSE, with a strong investigative story line starring a hard-boiled yet somewhat soft in the middle sleuth whose actions and reactions make James Swain¿s tale feel excitingly genuine. Tony is the novel with his ambivalent attitude towards his son and his linebacker approach to justice and fairness. Fans of a modern day bruising yet compassionate private detective not afraid to wristlock and kiss lock women wrestlers will relish FUNNY MONEY.

Harriet Klausner