As a young boy, Swain was “bitten by the magic bug.” He had an intense curiosity about how magic tricks were done. Over the years, he studied the craft and eventually became a master at sleight-of-hand. He parlayed his talent into a successful career and earned his place in the circle of high-profile magicians. This was how he first learned about “muckers.”
While visiting a Las Vegas casino with a magician friend, Swain spotted a gambler cheating at Blackjack. Although no one else noticed, the move was obvious to someone with Swain’s expertise. His friend explained that the man was a mucker – a person who switches cards during a game. The experience motivated Swain to hone his “grift sense” – an innate ability to spot a scam. Swain soon became a leading authority on gambling cons and swindles.But how did Swain go from mucker-buster to national best-selling mystery writer? He gives his wife credit for that.
After graduating from New York University with a writing degree, Swain worked for a Madison Avenue magazine before moving to Florida. He then took a job with a publishing company and later started his own magazine rep firm. But writing was his real passion. He had penned three successful books on magic and a few unpublished novels. Then, in 1999, he showed his wife a story he’d written. She suggested he change a secondary character to a main character and rewrite the story as a book. Swain took her advice, and on their anniversary, he learned that the book, Grift Sense, had been bought by Simon and Schuster.
Grift Sense introduced Tony Valentine, a retired cop who is an expert at exposing casino cheats. Swain’s lean, muscular writing style is the perfect fit for this hard-boiled protagonist, and the plot is peppered with wry wit that makes it a delight to read. The story gives readers an insider’s view of the casino world – a place as fascinating as it is unfamiliar. The critical success of Grift Sense spawned eight more Tony Valentine novels, a series that Kirkus Review calls “…smooth, funny…one of the finds of the decade.”
In 2007, Swain switched gears with Midnight Rambler, the first of four Florida-based novels featuring Jack Carpenter, a private investigator Swain describes as “a tour guide for the underbelly of South Florida.” Swain believes that Florida is unique when it comes to crime. “Criminals don’t just pass through. They come for a reason and often stay,” he says. “There’s a never-ending source of material.”
Swain has recently gone high tech with the release of four e-books: The Program (a Jack Carpenter novel); Jackpot and Wild Card (part of the Tony Valentine series); and The Man Who Cheated Death (the sequel to The Man Who Walked Through Walls, a novel about a master magician named Vincent Hardare). Swain has a keen interest in e-publishing, calling it “the wave of the future.”
Swain has just published the second in a series of paranormal thrillers that are a departure for this mystery writer. Dark Magic is the story of a magician who can talk to ghosts, and Shadow People published in June, 2013, is the sequel. While the subject may be different, Swain hopes readers will find the stories as engaging as his other works. “I haven’t written a book I don’t love,” he says. “It’s important to me that my books are things I can be proud of. I love success, but I love the craft of writing more.”And, for his legion of readers, that may be the real magic in books by James Swain.
For more about James Swain, visit his website at www.jimswain.com