Swain, James 1957(?)-

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Swain, James 1957(?)-


Born c. 1957; married; wife's name Laura (a community activist). Education: New York University, B.A.


Home—Lake Keystone, FL. Agent—Chris Calhoun, Sterling Lord Literistic, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012.


Former professional magician; owner of an advertising agency in Florida.


The Man Who Walked through Walls (novel), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Also author of three books on card handling.


Grift Sense, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Funny Money, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Sucker Bet, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Loaded Dice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Mr. Lucky, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Deadman's Poker, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.


James Swain began performing magic tricks with playing cards as a boy of twelve, and he has never stopped. A former professional magician and deft card handler, Swain has combined his personal knowledge with a broader vision of casino scams to create a mystery series with a refreshing new protagonist. Tony Valentine, the hero of Swain's series, is a retired police officer who investigates cheating in casinos—both by employees and by the grifters, or "crossroaders," who frequent casinos. As the popularity of casino gambling skyrockets across America, readers have turned to Swain's books for an insider's view of the seamier side of the industry. According to Josh Zimmer in the St. Petersburg Times, Swain's publishers feel that he "has tapped into a rich subject that, while compelling to millions of people, has rarely been put to fiction."

"There has not been a day in thirty-three years I haven't had a deck of cards in my hands. Even when I was sick," Swain commented in the St. Petersburg Times. The author estimates that he knows two hundred card tricks, including a great many that could have him banned from casinos. He also counts among his acquaintances hustlers who use tricks of their own to win money at card tables in casinos—and dealers who know how to tip the scales in the house's favor. Once Swain convinced these people that he would not reveal their identities in his fiction, they were only too willing to help him craft plots in which Tony Valentine seeks to see through their ruses, often at great peril to his life.

Valentine makes his debut in Grift Sense. He accepts a case in a run-down Las Vegas casino on behalf of the owner, Nick Nicocropolis, who suspects that one of his dealers is scamming him. It is up to Tony to watch the surveillance tapes and try to figure out exactly how the scam is playing out. Los Angeles Times reviewer Dick Lochte felt that Swain's "descriptions of casino high and low life are vivid and credible." In a review for the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio called Grift Sense "a flashy, funny novel."

Subsequent Valentine novels expand upon his somewhat erratic personal life, his relationship with a son who is drawn to the dark side, and his occasional romances with not-terribly-reliable women. What motivates Valentine, however, is a sense of moral justice, his interest in the complexity of casino scams, and the mindset of the scam artists. In Funny Money, Valentine travels to Atlantic City to avenge the murder of his former partner, who was investigating a six-million-dollar scam at one of the largest casinos. A Publishers Weekly contributor accorded the novel a starred review and cited it for "warmth, honesty, and inside expertise." Sucker Bet finds Valentine closer to home in Florida, battling alligators and criminal activities at a Micanopy Indian casino in the Everglades. New York Times Book Review contributor Stasio called Swain a "clever author" who "never neglects character." A Kirkus Reviews critic concluded a review of the same novel by declaring it "as much fun as a magic show, even though there's a tiny letdown each time the magician shows how he pulled it off."

In an interview on the Random House Web site, Swain said that he and Valentine share "a passion for understanding how people are cheated, and exposing it." Swain's novels are not how-to books on swindling casinos, but cautionary tales about the many pitfalls awaiting those who use illegal tactics to maximize profits. The author stated: "Perhaps it has do with my background as a magician, but I see most people and situations as illusions, with nothing being as it appears to be. It is Valentine's great gift that he can see through these illusions. But this gift also enacts a terrible price and puts him out of sync with the rest of the world."



Booklist, May 15, 2002, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Funny Money, p. 1580; March 15, 2003, Bill Ott, review of Sucker Bet, p. 1281; September 1, 2003, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Sucker Bet, p. 146; May 1, 2004, Bill Ott, review of Loaded Dice, p. 1520; February 1, 2005, Bill Ott, review of Mr. Lucky, p. 948; May 1, 2005, Candace Smith, review of Mr. Lucky, p. 1549.

Entertainment Weekly, March 4, 2005, Daniel Fierman, review of Mr. Lucky, p. 77.

Floridian, April 17, 2003, Bill Duryea, "Grift Rap," p. D1.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2001, review of Grift Sense, p. 547; May 1, 2002, review of Funny Money, p. 622; February 15, 2003, review of Sucker Bet, p. 275; April 15, 2004, review of Loaded Dice, p. 366; January 1, 2005, review of Mr. Lucky, p. 24.

Kliatt, March, 2005, Mary Purucker, review of Loaded Dice, p. 54.

Library Journal, May 1, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Grift Sense, p. 130; May 1, 2003, Rex E. Klett, review of Funny Money, p. 137; April 15, 2003, Thomas A. Kilpatrick, review of Sucker Bet, p. 130; November 1, 2003, Stephen L. Hupp, review of Sucker Bet, p. 139.

Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2001, Dick Lochte, review of Grift Sense, p. E2; July 3, 2002, Dick Lochte, review of Funny Money, p. E2.

MBR Bookwatch, April, 2005, review of Mr. Lucky.

New York Times Book Review, July 8, 2001, Marilyn Stasio, review of Grift Sense, p. 18; June 23, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Funny Money, p. 18; April 20, 2003, Marilyn Stasio, review of Sucker Bet, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, May 7, 2001, review of Grift Sense, p. 228; April 1, 2002, review of Funny Money, p. 55; May 10, 2004, review of Loaded Dice, p. 40; February 7, 2005, review of Mr. Lucky, p. 41; April 3, 2006, review of Deadman's Poker, p. 47.

St. Petersburg Times, June 1, 2001, Josh Zimmer, "Playing His Cards Right"; October 31, 2002, Colette Bancroft, "A Writer of Many Grifts," p. 6.


Jim Swain Home Page,http://www.jimswain.com (April 24, 2004).