Take Down




What happens in Vegas can make for a fun book.


Whoever says crime doesn’t pay isn’t doing it right.
There are hundreds of casinos in Las Vegas, and Billy Cunningham knows how to rip off every one. His scams are a thing of beauty – so perfectly orchestrated that onlookers believe he and his crew are winning fair and square. In a town where bosses will kill to protect their profits, Billy can’t afford to make mistakes, but even the best-laid plans can go wrong…
Desperate to keep his team out of jail, Billy agrees to help stop a legendary family of thieves from taking down a casino. But he has no intention of breaking the cheater’s code: never rat out your own kind. He’s running his own con on the casino’s psycho owner and his vicious, violent wife. Throw in a murderous drug dealer, a vengeful gaming agent, and the girl Billy’s never forgotten, and this scam artist is playing for sky-high stakes: a cool eight million, and the chance to live long enough to spend it.
©2015 James Swain (P)2014 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.


Billy Cunningham is a scammer. He knows all the tricks and has made himself a small fortune by taking casinos. He is also lucky in that while having been caught several times, nothing has ever stuck. But the most surprising thing is that for the listener, Billy Cunningham is likable.
Billy cheats because that’s what Billy knows. Billy is, at times, paranoid because that is how he needs to be in order to refrain from getting caught. He is loyal to his crew and not just to protect his own interests. He also has a moral code: “Never rat out your own kind”.
That last part of the equation is where the trouble starts. Billy is tricked by an old grifter into trying to scam a casino. However, the whole thing was a trap designed to get Billy to work for the ruthless casino manager and his vindictive wife to foil another scam that is set to unfold the following Saturday.
Things don’t always go the way Billy hopes, but he is able to use his strengths and his opponent’s weaknesses against them. Billy is always watching for those tiny mistakes and little tells that he can use for his own benefit. Toss in a murderous drug dealer, a couple of former NFL players and the woman from Billy’s past with a special place in his heart and it makes for an enjoyable story.
It’s a good thing that Billy Cunningham chews up so much scenery. The number of scenes in which he doesn’t appear or isn’t mentioned are very few. This is a good thing because he is easily the book’s breakout character. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of characters in contention for that spot.
‘Take Down’ features an abundance of stereotypical characters. You have an African American drug dealer, a couple of dumb former jocks, some stoner college kids, a grizzled old grifter, a smarmy business executive and a conniving wife. You even have the mysterious and seductive female from Billy’s past. I could go on with more but the point has been made.
However, I don’t necessarily think that all of these characters that play to stereotype is a bad thing. For one thing, whether we like to admit it or not, people who play to stereotype are often the ones that are easiest to remember. The other reason it works in this instance is because they all serve to make Billy Cunningham seem to be even more well-developed and complex than he might otherwise have been.
The plot generally plays out the way you might guess but there is a twist that happens near the book’s conclusion that is small in the overall picture but works well because it is in such contrast to how everything had played out up to that point. I won’t give it away but, I will suggest it as proof that Billy Cunningham isn’t always right and even he can be fooled once in a great while.
As a side note, one of the characters is named ‘Frank Grimes’. That is definitely a reference to ‘The Simpsons’, even if it’s not an intentional one.


James Swain uses his knowledge of gambling, gambling scams and Las Vegas to great effect in ‘Take Down’. Even his background as a magician had to play an influence on the mechanics of moving the story along.
Swain paints such a vivid picture of Las Vegas that I felt like I was there even though I’ve actually never been. The way that Swain constructs situations so that Billy is explaining the mechanics of a given scam to the listener while he explains it to character in conversation makes it feel like you are being let in on a big secret.


Nick Podehl shows a lot of range with his narration of ‘Take Down’. He provides a lot of accents that may seem to be a bit too stereotypical, but in this case that works to his advantage since the characters themselves are largely stereotypical.
He read at a good pace and kept his energy up the whole time. As Podehl’s performance reminds us, when a narrator appears to be enthusiastic, it is easier for the listener to be enthusiastic.


There is some funky music to open and close the track, but it is otherwise absent of any music or sound effects during the story. I don’t have a hardline stance when it comes to background noise the way other listeners do. Sometimes I think it adds to the story and sometimes it is just distracting. Some casino background noise at times is certainly something a few production studios would have considered. I thought the story worked just fine without it, however.
Otherwise, the track sounds as good as you would hope. The dialog comes through cleanly with no shifts in volume level to be heard. There are no other glitches that I found on the track. Like I said, all you could want in this day and age.


‘Take Down’ is one of those stories that once you start reading, it is easy to get sucked in. Once I started it, I had no great desire to put it down.
‘Take Down’ features a character that stands out above all others in the novel. It is rich in atmosphere and story detail, and while it generally flows in a predictable manner, there are a few surprises to find along the way. This is the type of book you should read if you don’t want to put a lot of effort into having some fun.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Take Down James Swain Nick Podehl Brilliance Audio Mystery and Thriller 02/10/2015 11 hours, 13 minutes 8.25/10


A copy of ‘TAKE DOWN’ was purchased from Audible for review.

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