The Secret History of Las Vegas

by Chris Abani, published by Penguin Books. 2014. ISBN: 978-0-14-312495-5

Plot summary from inside cover of book:

“Before veteran detective Salazar can retire, he’s determined to solve a recent spate of murders of Las Vegas’s homeless. On Halloween he encounters a pair of conjoined twins wading in Lake Mead and is sure he has apprehended the killers. Their names: Water, strikingly handsome, and Fire, disfigured and sharp-tongued – members of a sideshow on the outskirts of Las Vegas called the Carnival of Lost Souls. When they can’t explain the container of blood found near their car, Salazar enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant who specializes in the study of psychopaths.”

My thoughts:

Sometimes I when I go to the library I get a book that I don’t even read the cover of. I just grab one off the shelf. Sometimes I start reading that book and I have to stop because it’s terrible or boring or whatever. Sometimes the book ends up being a great find. This is one of those books. I like it.

This is the first novel I’ve read where there was minimal punctuation. The author did not use quotation marks or question marks, so it took a few pages to get used to this, but eventually my brain took care of it and I stopped noticing. The style does not in any way impede the reader. In fact, the style matches the plot and characters well.

Abani does well with characterization. I could relate enough to most of them to care about them, and the ones I could not relate to were interesting enough that they are all very distinct people in my mind. There is enough use of flashbacks for histories of the characters that it adds to their depths. However, the flashbacks sometimes seem as if they are overtaking the book.

There was some excellent description of the heinous history of apartheid in South Africa that I had to Google to explore more. The violence is portrayed in a way that does not feel excessive, but is strong enough to get the point across. It was detailed enough to imagine it with out it being too overwhelming.

Abani paints a picture of the desert in a way that the reader can feel the dust and dryness of Nevada. The scenes that describe the US government’s nuclear testing above and underground again had me researching on Google for more information, especially about the health of people who lived and live near those testing areas.

I was not surprised by the climax, but it was intriguing how Abani weaves it all together and ties it up quickly. The novel was not slow, but most of the quicker moving parts were at the end all at once. With the way this is written, I could actually see this as a movie directed by Quentin Tarantino, especially with Abani’s use of flashbacks and detailed violence.

In all, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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