Mr. Lucky is James Swain's latest novel about Tony Valentine, former Atlantic City cop turned professional "grifter-catcher." Masterfully adept at spotting scams intended not only to beat but to cheat the house, it's Tony's business to identify the scammers who have somehow fooled the casinos' own security. From his home in Florida, Tony works for casinos around the world, often without leaving the comfort of his own house. For example, he receives video feed from gambling dens in Macau via his broadband Internet connection in order to identify a scam in action and tell the casino's security team both who is cheating them and how. In a world where gambling may well be the #1 spectator sport, especially with the current raging interest in poker, Valentine isn't hurting for work. Everybody looks for an edge against the house; some just go further than others, and that's where Tony comes in.
Like Swain's earlier books, such as Sucker Bet, Loaded Dice, and Grift Sense, Mr. Lucky focuses on Valentine's efforts to catch someone who appears to have crossed the line. Swain himself spent years immersing himself in the world of gambling and sleight-of-hand in order to understand and explain card trickery (he's written three non-fiction books on the subject). As such, he manages to do two things in this book: first, he draws upon his experience to create a diverse group of intriguing characters full of nuance and shadow; second, he weaves a compelling narrative while revealing the secrets of many scammers.
The magicians I've known always say that when they show someone how a trick works, the first reaction is always a mixture of surprise and disappointment; the person can't believe how "easy" the trick is. In his Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle would have Holmes astound someone with his quick "deductive reasoning" about them. But when Holmes would tell them how he learned such things (i.e., not from some psychic power but rather by making educated "guesses" based on an examination of physical evidence), they would routinely dismiss his talent as some sort of parlor trick.
So it is with casino scams and card trickery; a trick that seems so amazing at first blush often ends up seeming rather pedestrian. But that's actually the point of it in a nutshell: sometimes, it is easy to fool people, even those who are on their guard. Still, simple scams are also easily spotted by those who know what to look for. More complicated scams involving large "gangs" of cheaters take much more effort to unravel – and that's where "Mr. Lucky" comes in.