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Mystery writer has more books up his sleeve

Jim Swain's first novel, about a retired cop living in Palm Harbor, has put him on a fast track to success, his editor says.

By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 29, 2001


KEYSTONE -- Jim Swain, the sleight-of-hand expert, makes cards appear out of nowhere.

And like the aces he magically pulls from a deck, his quick rise within the publishing world has come as a stunning surprise. After this year's good response to his first book, Grift Sense, publishing giant Simon & Schuster is touting him as one of its promising new authors. The New York company believes his mysteries are tapping into the country's obsession with gambling.

"We always like writers that perform well off the bat," said editor George Lucas.

Critics from such papers as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times praised the suspense and complex plotting of the often violent tale of a Las Vegas casino scam foiled by hard-nosed sleuthing and a bit of luck.

In this gambling mystery, Swain, 45, introduces his main character, a retired Atlantic City cop named Tony Valentine, who has relocated to Palm Harbor and finds himself a highly regarded private investigator within the casino industry.

The world-weary Valentine will be the protagonist in Swain's next two books for Simon & Schuster, which took the unusual step of signing Swain to a three-book contract.

Lucas said Grift Sense performed well for a first-time author, selling 15,000 hardback copies in three printings. The paperback version is scheduled for release in mid 2002, about the time Simon & Schuster releases Swain's second book -- already written -- called Funny Money.

So by summer, he will be plugging two books, this time in cities such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia, where Atlantic City will ring familiar. There may even be a movie in the future.

Swain, who runs an advertising business from his home with his wife, Keystone Civic Association activist Laura Swain, says his success as a novelist is the culmination of a dream.

In the past the Long Island native combined his love of writing and magic to produce respected books on gambling. But the release of Grift Sense was "one of the greatest thrills of my life," he said. "Knowing it will come out in mass market paperback is equally thrilling."

He turned down an offer to write a screenplay for a television movie that would have been based on Valentine's character, saying he wanted to stick with producing literature.

"I just simply could not have asked for a better reception than what we got," Swain said.

Unlike some authors, Swain enjoys the touring, and the performing that comes along with it.

"I think word got around that he was a good guy to have around," said Lucas, who would like to see actor Nick Nolte play Valentine in any movie version.

Optimism is running high for Funny Money, which Lucas calls "even better" than Grift Sense: "I think it's sharper, I think it's funnier, I think it's more tightly plotted, plus I think it's got more gambling lore."

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