Phil Jason Book Review
Casino scam thriller offers high stakes suspense
Take Down, by James Swain. Thomas & Mercer. 430 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.
In his latest novel, James Swain is back to painting the milieu in which he has no peers: the gambling scene. Set in Las Vegas and focused on a new casino hotel that serves as a money laundering front for a big drug operation, this novel has all the thrills, chills, and insider information one could ever hope for. Billy Cunningham, a thirty year old professional cheater, becomes a strange kind of moral pillar in a ruthless world where the only moral code involves scoring big money and staying alive.
For people like Billy Cunningham, and his one-time flame Maggie Flynn, the enemy is the gaming board, a group empowered to protect the public and the gaming industry from scammers and thieves. However, the gaming board agents whom we meet in this tale are always ready to abuse their power and might just as well be the subjects of investigations for their own corruption. It seems that at times that this powerful board colludes with the worst elements in the industry.
Should the owner of the Galaxy, a big-time narcotic distributor, be the recipient of the gaming board’s protection or the subject of an investigation?
The board makes deals to pursue its priority cases. It lessens or drops criminal penalties in exchange for evidence leading to the successful prosecution of bigger fish.
The set-up of the story goes like this: Billy has a fantastic, convoluted plan to duplicate the gold-colored, high denomination chips used in the Galaxy casino and then manage to cash them in. This would result in a huge, multi-million dollar “take down.” At the same time, he is in on the Galaxy payroll – checking their security and promising to foil the upcoming scam of another slick team of scoundrels known as the Gypsies.
In fact, Billy hopes to use the cover of the commotion regarding the Gypsy “wedding scam,” which is that group’s own cover for a slot machine payoff manipulation, to cover his own counterfeit gold chip operation.
As readers watch Billy prepare his team for its biggest trick, they get to meet a fascinating group of characters who must use their skills and play their roles with precision or the scam will collapse – as will their outlaw careers. For Billy, loyalty is the ultimate necessity for smooth functioning; therefore is very generous in buying that loyalty from his team members. Beyond that, he really cares about them and shows it in many additional ways. . . .
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