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The Secret History of Las Vegas: A Novel
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The Secret History of Las Vegas: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Chris Abani
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Praise for The Secret History of Las Vegas:

“[A]n unsettling and complex entanglement of outsiders, freak shows, secret government experiments into mental illness, racism, sexual exploitation and fighting dwarfs….What lifts the novel is its energy, the audacity of Abani’s imagination, and most all the breadth of vision.”—The New York Times Book Review

The Secret History of Las Vegas is not your standard crime novel....It’s Tony Hillerman as filtered through J. M. Coetzee, a moving, strange and savagely funny book.”—Los Angeles Times

The Secret History of Las Vegas brings an admirably global perspective to the crime novel. Every noir needs a victim of circumstance, but here the circumstances are the military-industrial complex and state-sponsored racism.”—The Washington Post

“An intricate braid of story strands, enriched by vivid descriptions, intriguingly dysfunctional characters, and abundant metaphors. Expect the unexpected.”—Booklist

“Lambent prose lifts this offbeat crime novel from PEN/Hemingway Award-winner [Chris] Abani.”—Publishers Weekly

“[I]n this grim but beautifully written tale…Abani creates vivid metaphors not just with his characters, but also with a drowned town emerging from the waters of Lake mead, a ghost town that hosts the Carnival of Losr Souls, and the city of Las Vegas, which celebrates the dark, the hidden and the grotesque.”—Kirkus  (starred review)
Praise for Chris Abani:

"Chris Abani might be the most courageous writer working right now. There is no subject matter he finds daunting, no challenge he fears. Aside from that, he's stunningly prolific and writes like an angel. If you want to get at the molten heart of contemporary fiction, Abani is the starting point."—Dave Eggers, author of The Circle

“Abani is a force to be reckoned with, a world-class novelist and poet.”—Russell Banks, author of Lost Memory of Skin

“Abani has the energy, ambition and compassion to create a novel that delineates and illuminates a complicated, dynamic, deeply fractured society.”—Los Angeles Times

“Ambitious…[GranceLand is] a kind of small miracle.”—John Freeman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“[The Secret History of Las Vegas] is An intricate braid of story strands, enriched by vivid descriptions, intriguingly dysfunctional characters, and abundant metaphors. Expect the unexpected.”—Booklist

“[I]n this grim but beautifully written tale…Abani creates vivid metaphors not just with his characters, but also with a drowned town emerging from the waters of Lake mead, a ghost town that hosts the Carnival of Losr Souls, and the city of Las Vegas, which celebrates the dark, the hidden and the grotesque.”—Kirkus  (starred review)

Product Description

A gritty, riveting, and wholly original murder mystery from PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author Chris Abani

Before he can retire, Las Vegas detective Salazar is determined to solve a recent spate of murders. When he encounters a pair of conjoined twins with a container of blood near their car, he’s sure he has apprehended the killers, and enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant who specializes in the study of psychopaths. As Sunil tries to crack the twins, the implications of his research grow darker. Haunted by his betrayal of loved ones back home during apartheid, he seeks solace in the love of Asia, a prostitute with hopes of escaping that life. But Sunil’s own troubled past is fast on his heels in the form of a would-be assassin.

Suspenseful through the last page, The Secret History of Las Vegas is Chris Abani’s most accomplished work to date, with his trademark visionary prose and a striking compassion for the inner lives of outsiders.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1500 KB
  • Print Length: 337 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0143124951
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (Jan. 7 2014)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group USA
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #106,995 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Something very different.. March 29 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I always give myself four chapters to get into a book. If after four I still can'y get into it - I'm done!
So glad I did with this one!
Exceptional story line. Interesting characters! Some great twists and turns...Really awesome surprising ending!!!
(with out giving anything away!!! ;-)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Myth and truth Jan. 7 2014
By TChris - Published on
Las Vegas is a city of fantasy, making it a fitting setting for a novel that uses elements of myth and fantasy to illuminate truth and reality. With casinos that replicate Paris and Venice and ancient Egypt, Las Vegas (Chris Abani theorizes) is searching for a myth that will validate its existence, a link to a place with deeper and more substantial roots. Abani posits that Las Vegas has given birth to "submerged and subterranean cultures" filled with "the fevered men who so desperately wanted those myths to be true." It is also a city that attracts lost souls. Myths and lost souls provide the background for The Secret History of Las Vegas, an original and perceptive blend of humor and drama, fantasy and reality.

In one of the most interesting openings to a novel I've recently encountered, fused twin sons are born in the Nevada desert, two miles from an exploding nuclear bomb. Their mother names them Fire and Water. Years later, Water is a handsome adult, physically normal except for the head and partial body of Fire that sprouts from his side.

Meeting Fire and Water unnerves Detective Salazar. He wants to detain them as suspects in a series of unsolved killings but, lacking good cause, decides to hold them for observation by a mental health expert. He calls upon the novel's central character, Sunil Singh, a researcher at a private Las Vegas institute who is studying psychopathic behavior. Half Zulu, half Indian, and displaced from South Africa, Sunil thinks of Las Vegas as home. It is, at least, fertile ground for his study of psychopaths.

Beyond its beginning, I won't describe the plot, lest its craziness put you off (and also to avoid spoiling the pleasure of the surprises it holds). Suffice it to say that it involves past and present loves stories and a hit man who has a grudge against Sunil. At times it seems like a parody of a thriller. At other times it becomes a serious novel about race and injustice. The characters are just as unpredictable as the plot. No matter how familiar they are (the hooker with the heart of gold, the police detective on the verge of retirement who is frustrated by an unsolved crime), Abani twists them into less recognizable (but strangely believable) shapes. Fire and Water are hilarious, at least if you appreciate humor that is offbeat, slightly absurdist, and somewhat dark. Water responds to questions with not-quite-relevant trivia while Fire responds with sarcasm.

Yet for all the humor, The Secret History of Las Vegas is a serious commentary on the impact of apartheid on its victims. While races around the world are slowly blending together into a "sepia of tolerance," Sunil's life in South Africa was shaped by the racial classifications marked on South African identity documents carried by nonwhites, "the backbone of apartheid." The dangers and indignities of Soweto, the evils that he saw and that he perpetrated, are never far removed from Sunil's memories. At the same time, he has grown weary of people who wear trauma like a badge, vying for the distinction of belonging to the group that suffered the most, as if "tallying an impossible math" will arrive at a meaningful result.

In addition to the myths of Las Vegas, Sunil recalls the myths of South Africa, particularly the Sorrow Tree, which "could bear everyone's pain for a short while." All the novel's characters are bearing pain but they manage to find respites from pain, often by coming together, as people do when they gather at the Sorrow Tree. Sunil is searching for his own myth, the fictional story that will explain the truth of his life. Abani furthers that theme by incorporating a fairy tale from Sunil's childhood that is a thinly veiled version of a true story. Myth, illusion, fantasy, and varying versions of reality all stir together in Abani's fresh, eccentric, funny, moving, and thoroughly entertaining novel.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This Novel Attempts to Do Too Much Feb. 6 2014
By C. E. Selby - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found myself almost having to jot down the various threads of this novel as they unraveled, quite possibly because the history of apartheid South Africa is not one I know well. So the pieces that take place there with the protagonist who is a psychiatrist now living in Las Vegas were new. And it didn't help that the bouncing back and forth--the current story intermixed with the back story--made for a certain incoherence. (It's not fun having to go back to re-read something, and I attempted that for a bit then gave up). The story in and around Las Vegas involves what has occurred as a result of nuclear bomb fall-out with a rather interesting cast of characters including the conjoined twins, Water and Fire, who may or may not be involved in a murder. They are part of a road show that is fun to read about although, again, because it gets mixed in with South Africa, can be difficult to follow. The central character is involved with a prostitute, and he is also being hunted down by a fellow South African.
Then there is this: this book needed an editor. You will discover that there are glaring factual errors such as this: saying Herbert Hoover was the 39th President. (That was Jimmy Carter! Hoover was 31st.) And there are annoying repetitions of phrases that weren't caught by the copy editor (if there was one) as well as a lack of capitalization, i.e., jesus, not Jesus! las vegas instead of Las Vegas! (Maybe the author had some stylistic something-or-other in mind. But for me that didn't work.
It was not a book that I found eager to return to. In fact I am rather glad to be done with it because, in the end, it just wasn't worth the time. It's just mediocre in my opinion.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The title is misleading Feb. 9 2014
By David W. Randall - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Thought I was getting something else so probably my fault. Written without quotation marks which made it hard to follow which in turn make it even harder to read. Jumped all over the place and with Kindle it's hard to go back and pick up.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A splendid blend of thriller and literary fiction Jan. 11 2014
By G. Johnson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If I were to attempt to describe this book briefly, the characters would sound absurd (conjoined twins suspected of being serial killers, a Sikh South African psychiatrist who works for a top-secret U.S. Army research institute) and the plots cliché (retiring cop wants to solve a case that haunts him, psychiatrist can't decide between two women and has unresolved mother issues). But Abani is such a brilliant and beautiful writer that these characters and plots come together in a unique and utterly enjoyable blend of literary fiction and crime thriller. I wanted to savor the writing, but I also wanted to stay up all night to find out how everything was resolved as soon as possible. I highly recommend this book to anyone who can stand a bit of sex and some graphic violence (which is anything but gratuitous, as it is often describing horrors in South Africa in the psychiatrist's past).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and chilling Feb. 26 2014
By MyBookishWays - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Over the course of a couple of years, the bodies of homeless men have been turning up along the shores of Lake Mead, right outside of Las Vegas. Not just one or two at a time, either, but piles of bodies. Detective Salazar has been working the case, and, on the cusp of retirement, he’s determined to put it to rest, as the last good thing he can do. All of the dead are a burden on his soul, but it’s one body that stood out the most, that of a red headed young girl, found amongst a pile of the dead. He’s soon called to the shores of Lake Mead again, where a park ranger has found conjoined twins in the lake, one seemingly holding the other under the water. A container full of blood is also found nearby. Not sure if he has attempted murder, suicide, or something else on his hands, Salazar calls in Dr. Sunil Singh, whose specialty lies in studying the nature of psychopaths. Little does Salazar know, Dr. Singh knows more about the body dumps than he’s letting on, and the twins, Fire and Water, are much more than they seem.

Chris Abani is the author of six novels and numerous works of poetry, and he’s won too many awards to count. The man very accomplished, and is highly respected in the literary world, for good reason. The Secret History of Las Vegas is, on the surface, a mystery, but underneath lies a fascinating story of a complicated, and at his core, good man whose past haunts him and who continues to seek redemption, in spite of his current work. Sunil Singh’s studies on the nature of psychopaths aren’t exactly what anyone would call humane, and its intended applications are terrifying. Singh’s past in Apartheid era South Africa has instilled in him enough horror to last a lifetime, and the heartache that he carries for a lost love is an undercurrent in the sadness that follows him like a dark cloud. Singh doesn’t know what to think of the twins, but he does sense something else at work, and he hopes to get to the bottom of it. Singh’s past is about to catch up with him, and a desert showdown is on the horizon.

The narrative mainly follows Salazar and Singh, and delves into both of their pasts, but this is really Singh’s story. The book, however, begins with the story of the twins’ mother, their birth, and eventually, her death right before they are to join a sideshow, and the scenes with the twins were some of my favorites. There’s a distinct nourish feel and Salazar is appropriately gruff, but like Singh, there’s nothing simple about him either. The horrors of Apartheid are explored through Singh, but never gratuitously, always in a very matter of fact way and perhaps this was why, for me, it was so upsetting, especially his memories about the chilling Vlakplaas,which served as the headquarters of the South African Police counterinsurgency (C10) during Apartheid. Singh is a man shaped by his past, by much tragedy, and yet constantly hopes for brighter things. His love for a prostitute named Asia punctuates his sadness, and longing. Abani is a master of subtlety, and it’s the little things that are important in this novel. Abani’s exploration of racial identity are also a big part of this book, as are those of the nature of family, and even love.When I started the book, I never could have imagined how it would end, but I can tell you that it was surprising, and ultimately, very satisfying. Amongst so much darkness, there can still be hope, and light, and it’s on this note that the author leaves us. This is an unusual, fascinating, sometimes very creepy, and ultimitely optimistic novel, and it’s not to be missed.
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