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Misadventures in Sin City

Two novels about Las Vegas roll the dice — and come up craps.

Charlie proceeds to lose all his money at the poker table, to pick the pocket of the Fifty-Fifty casino's celebrated magician and to give the casino's decidedly unsympathetic owners the mistaken impression that he has stolen $140,000 worth of poker chips from them. They give him 24 hours to repay that amount — or pay with his life — which motivates Charlie to begin burglarizing hotel rooms in search of cash. He doesn't find much money, but he does find a young woman floating facedown in the magician's bathtub. And the magician has done a vanishing act of his own — perhaps the permanent result of having double-crossed those vengeful casino owners.

In desperation, Charlie recruits a seven-foot trapeze artist and a four-foot clown as his partners in crime. Slapstick, if not hilarity, ensues, with Charlie even remarking at one point that he feels trapped in a Keystone Kops movie. And did I mention the cringe-worthy humor? When a battalion of Elvis imitators wanders by, for example, Charlie reports seeing "the belly of the last guy bulging against his jumpsuit as though he was pregnant with Tom Jones."

Enough, already! Whatever you may think of Vegas, these novels are not insider's guides to its pleasures or pitfalls. Personally, I know only one book that portrays Sin City in all its essential strangeness: Hunter S. Thompson's drug-culture classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But that's another story.

Washington novelist and journalist Patrick Anderson is the author of
The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction. He regularly reviews new fiction for The Washington Post.

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