Gambling expert, casino consultant and retired cop Tony Valentine is back, along with his grifter-made-good son, Gerry, in the satisfying sixth installment of Swain's cards-and-cons thriller series (after Mr. Lucky). Gerry's lifelong friend Jack Donovan tells Gerry he's concocted an undetectable scheme that "can beat any poker player in the world," but dies before he can let Gerry in on it. Though ruled a suicide, Gerry is convinced Jack was murdered. Gerry's investigation leads him and his reluctant father to the World Poker Showdown in Las Vegas, where they encounter tournament darling Skip DeMarco, the legally blind nephew of a notorious mobster. Every expert Tony and Gerry speak with thinks Skip is cheating, but no one can prove it—making the Valentine boys wonder to whom Jack may have told his secret before he died. As always, Swain makes his encyclopedic mastery of gambling lore and technique look easy, and he handles Gerry and Tony's turbulent relationship with thought and humor, giving weight to the parallel dynamic between Skip and his Mafia uncle. Though many of the other supporting characters are forgettable, Swain's knowledge of the con, and of his leads, make this novel a pleasure.
“Mixing humor, suspense, poignancy and insider lore, Swain is one terrific writer.” –The Wall Street Journal
“Swain has hit on a winning combination. . . . [Valentine] is the kind of man you wouldn’t mind having on your side in a high-stakes poker game, let alone the game of life.” –The Washington Post Book World
If you read the passage at the link above, you'll see no sign of his being an Indian. And no sign of his having the "the demeanor of a statue." Given his name and attitude, you'd expect him to be a typical Anglo-American. Making him a Navajo seems gratuitous--an example of tokenism.
But Higgins is apparently a continuing character in the series. Here's a passage from an earlier book, Sucker Bet, about the fictitious Micanopy casino in Florida:
In short, it seems author Swain doesn't write Indians very well.
Despite these comments, Deadman's Poker is a good read (or listen, in my case). I'd give the first two-thirds of the book an 8.5 for keeping me hooked. But then it gets sidetracked and loses steam. The last third of the book is only a 7.0 or so and it ends abruptly--to be continued in the next volume.
Overall rating: 8.0 of 10. Fun if you know Las Vegas and casinos and want to know how cheaters and scam artists play their tricks.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.