April's Tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to Richard Swain for Sucker Bet, installment number three in the popular series featuring professional gambling consultant Tony Valentine, a 60-ish ex-cop who makes his living catching the hustlers who swindle casinos. Hired by a South Florida Indian casino, Valentine investigates the staggering odds against a player winning an unprecedented 84 hands of blackjack in a row. When the dealer turns up dead, the stakes rise dramatically. Someone wants Valentine off the case and will stop at nothing to achieve that end. In one particularly harrowing moment, Valentine must face off a hungry alligator left in the back seat of his car by person or persons unknown. A la Carl Hiaasen, Swain populates Sucker Bet with colorful (some might say gaudy) South Florida characters: Nigel Moon, an aging British rocker who is being set up for a major fleecing; Kat Berman, Valentine's on-again off-again professional wrestler girlfriend; and Mr. Beauregard, a ukulele-playing chimpanzee with uncanny instincts into the personalities of his fellow primates (many of whom, nominally human, seem further down the evolutionary chain than Mr. Beauregard is). The dialogue is excellent, the plotting is fast-paced and believable. An added bonus: Swain exposes several of the clever ways in which cheaters get an edge over the house. (Kids, don't try this at home.)

 

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