Picks and Pans Review: Bad Luck

updated 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/24/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Anthony Bruno

FBI agent Cuthbcrt Gibbons and his ex-partner Mike Tozzi are the best fictional cop duo around, at least on the federal level. And Bruno has gotten them into a terrific mess in this, his third Gibbons-Tozzi novel.

Gibbons is worried because Tozzi, now his cousin-in-law-to-be, is working on an undercover operation against Atlantic City real estate tycoon Russell Nashe, and he hasn't been heard from in days.

While Gibbons doesn't figure Tozzi for dead, he does count on him to be having more fun than the law allows. Sure enough, when Gibbons hits the Jersey shore to track Tozzi, he finds his buddy up to his snake eyes in high rollers, fast talkers, casino cons and members of the Mistretta crime family. Tozzi has even found time to link Nashe to the mob, a connection revealed to the agent during a romantic encounter with Mrs. Nashe. Now all Tozzi needs to fit the pieces together is a bit of help. Who better than his old partner Gibbons?

" 'Hold it, hold it, hold it,' " says Gibbons. " 'You know, you do this to me all the time. You make up your mind that you're gonna do things your way, then you drag me into it to hold your hand. Well, you can go—yourself this time—'

" 'Hey, don't yell. You're making a scene here.' Tozzi scanned the lounge nervously. 'I'm not asking you for a big favor. All I want you to do is go to city hall.'

"Gibbons rubbed his mouth and looked at the rows of bottles behind the bar. 'The last time I did a favor for you, I wound up in the hospital. You remember that?"

"Tozzi bit his bottom lip. 'I have never in my life met a guy who can hold a grudge like you.' "

All three of Bruno's "bad" novels (Bad Guys and Bad Blood came first) have been total pleasure. Bruno, whose master's degree is in medieval studies, somehow has a fine ear for cop-and-crook dialogue, the casino action is lively, and the pacing far exceeds legal requirements for crime thrillers.

The strength of Bad Luck, however, lies in Bruno's knack for creating true-to-the-touch characters, from the mobsters (who could resist anyone named Juicy Vacarini?) to the cops to Sister Cecilia Immordino, the Mistretta family's own resident nun.

Bad Luck, a novel filled to the brim with born losers, turns over a lucky seven. (Delacorte, $ 18.95)

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