I can only think of one time in my life when I was so frustrated and disappointed with a book that I threw it across the room in disgust. But if I had been reading James Swain's Loaded Dice, instead of listening to it on CD in my car, I would have thrown that book too when I reached the final few chapters.
I tell you this not to make you think I advocate book destruction or am a bad book caretaker. Quite the opposite, in fact. I have written articles at this site about my love of writing and reading, which is one reason I recently decided on plans to teach middle school English.
My point is that it takes a lot for me to be so disgusted with a book that I want to immediately discard it. But that is the effect Loaded Dice had on me when I listened to it.
Last month I read — well, listened to — Mr. Lucky, also written by James Swain. I had conflicted emotions about that book. The characters were not well developed and seemed more like caricatures or stereotypes than real people.
What makes Swain's books compelling, though, are not the characters but the casino cons and schemes he describes. Swain's resulting style in these books reminds me of advice I once heard at a journalism writing seminar. The writing coach said that in long feature stories it is sometimes a good idea to leave gold coins — choice quotes or anecdotes — to reward a reader for staying with the story. The descriptions of the clever cons and scams kept me going despite frustrations with the book's characters and wooden dialogue.
I decided to try another book by Swain, Loaded Dice. The main character in both books is Tony Valentine, a retired Atlantic City cop who is keeping busy after his wife's death by working for casinos around the world. They hire him to spot and stop cons and scams.
Much of Loaded Dice involves Tony trying to find his son with whom he, of course, has a difficult, complicated relationship. You see, Tony did what all good fathers do - he sent his son to card counting school where, of course, he got into trouble for putting some of those lessons into action.