by Roger Zotti
Bad Beat (starring Antonio Cruz) is J. Fields, Jr.’s second book. Currently he’s finishing the third book in the series, and, he says, “The fourth and fifth are almost plotted out.” Fields intends to have “the characters in the series each have their turn at facing problems and changing, in good and bad ways. The real challenge is to not let them grow stale.”
The fast-paced, entertaining Bad Beat (edited by Jim Parish) is about, Fields says, “some Rhode Island gangsters who try for a piece of action in the Native Sun Casino.” We learn, too, that the main character, the casino’s inimitable Head Butler Antonio Cruz—whom we met in Casino Shuffle, Fields’ hilarious, well-received first work—has “some dark connections with them in his past.” (Fields teases us with bits of information about Cruz’s background—which may perhaps be revealed more fully in the next book.) A suicide occurs as well, and Cruz and Mark Ford, the casino’s special investigator, “have to figure out how it’s all connected.”
If you’ve read Casino Shuffle, you’re familiar with the intelligent, humorous, kind, and immaculately attired Cruz. Always the gentleman, he has a code of conduct. Consider the scene in the elevator, near the end of the book, when the “nefarious and devious” Halifax Downs, the new Executive Director of Gaming Operations, accuses the pregnant Victoria of being a thief (“Won’t you miss your baby while you’re in jail?”). Then he insults Cruz (“You are covering for her…I suppose she could remind you of your mother, though they all look a bit alike.”) Mistake! Cruz’s code won’t permit anyone to slur him or his friends. He slaps Downs “across his face.” The chapter ends with a telling last line: “The sound was a lightning crack.”
The slap foreshadows what Cruz does in Chapter 61. Confronting Nicky, an armed gangster, “Antonio ducked…clanged the sword broad-side into the mafia man’s gun hand, and watched the weapon fall away into the darkness between rows [and he] barreled through the man’s legs and managed to get to his feet just as the assailant was hitting the carpet. He directed his foot into one of the man’s kidneys and had the blade to the fellow’s throat….”
“Just fun” is what Fields hopes readers take away from Bad Beat. The novel contains “a lot of behind-the scenes insights into the casino business, with a bit of mystery.” And yes, there are adult situations and humor—“but you won’t find grotesque bloodshed and overt sexuality. No one is going to flinch in shock reading my books.”
On the three days a week Fields spends with his son, he doesn’t write because “those days are all about him.” For the rest of the week, however, he writes: “I work in a casino all day, then come home and write about a casino at night for about two or three hours. The third book is almost ready for the editor.” Fields’ goal is “four books a year—which is ambitious, but fun.”
Bad Beat is available on Kindle at amazon.com.
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