When I first held The Secret History of Las Vegas in Chris Abani in my hands, I was expecting an escapist pop-mystery novel. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by its multifaceted characters who are hiding their own demons, the novel’s creepy factor, and best of all, good writing. I’d probably categorize this novel as literary fiction than mystery. Just make sure to read it with the lights on.
Las Vegas Detective Salazar is sure he has found the serial killer to a string of unsolved murders that span years. Or rather, killers: conjoined twins named Water and Fire, who is discovered with a vat of human blood in an off limits area. Since there’s no body at the alleged crime scene, Salazar calls upon Dr. Singh, who specializes in the study of psychopaths. Haunted by the unsolved murder of a young girl, Salazar is convinced in the twins’ guilt. Dr. Singh is a transplant from South Africa who is fighting the demons from his violent past. As they dig deeper into the twins’ history, the two discover the world of “downwinders,” people who suffered deformities due to radiation exposure from U.S. government nuclear testing in the Nevada dessert.
Every character in this novel faces high stakes, which in turn drives their action (or inaction). This in depth character development is what sucked me into this novel. It’s obvious that Dr. Singh is hiding from his past by running to the United States. As his past is revealed to the readers, it’s clear why he wished for a new beginning. Salazar attempts to quiet his demons before his upcoming retirement. Water and Fire’s physical connection baffles Dr. Singh until he realizes how untenable the twins’ connection to each other is.
Chris Abani builds the suspense very carefully, without hurrying the reader but not drip by drip as to make us frustrated. As much as I wanted to know who the killer(s) was, I wanted, no, needed to know what happened to Dr. Singh in South Africa. What happened to make him the emotionally guarded and unopen to love? I turned devoured page after page of Abani’s writing to find out. Except when it got too quiet and late at night in my apartment. The creepy factory forced me to wait until daylight to continue reading.
Something that might bother other readers is that Abani uses no quotation marks for the dialogue in the novel. While this threw me off at first, I got used to it quickly
The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani was a fantastic read.
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I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.