The Secret History of Las Vegas

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Overview


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 ...
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Overview


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.

2015 Edgar Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Marcel Theroux
…[Abani's] exhilarating new novel heads out into the desert, sets the destination to Vegas-noir, dials the intensity up to Grand Guignol and then floors it. The result is an unsettling and complex entanglement of outsiders, freak shows, secret government experiments into mental illness, racism, sexual exploitation and fighting dwarfs…a bold appropriation of a defining piece of Americana…[Abani's] writing has the scope of a person who has lived and imagined widely. America is refracted through the eyes of a global citizen…His outsider's eye can make the familiar seem mordantly fresh…In the end, what lifts the novel is its energy, the audacity of Abani's imagination, and most of all the breadth of vision that supplies its moral context. The Secret History of Las Vegas has a global sweep and—what's often aspired to, but rarely achieved in a novel—a feeling of thematic unity.
Publishers Weekly
★ 11/25/2013
Lambent prose lifts this offbeat crime novel from PEN/Hemingway Award–winner Abani (The Virgin of Flames), who effortlessly captures the essence of Sin City: “Here in Vegas the glamour beguiled and blinded all but those truly intent on seeing, and in this way the tinsel of it mocked the obsessive hope of those who flocked there.” Two years after “dead homeless men had begun appearing in dumps of ten,” the body dumps resume. Las Vegas PD’s Detective Salazar gets a promising, if bizarre lead, when a park ranger discovers conjoined twins, who call themselves Fire and Water, near the scene of the abandoned corpses. Fire is just a body fragment consisting of a head, two arms, and a toe sticking out of his brother’s torso. More important than the complicated mystery’s resolution is the author’s haunting examination of human cruelty, including scenes of experimentation that are almost too painful to read. Agent: Ellen S. Levine, Trident Media Group. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-12-19
A detective on the brink of retirement and a psychiatrist with a guilty burden are brought together by a series of deaths in Las Vegas in this grim but beautifully written tale. Detective Salazar, of the Las Vegas Police, has a habit of revisiting scenes of unsolved crimes. When one such scene becomes active again, he arrests conjoined twins who were bathing in Lake Mead near a drum leaking blood. The twins are Water Esau Grimes, a full-sized man who spouts factoids, and Fire Jacob Grimes, a tiny appendage who does most of the talking for both. To justify keeping them in custody, Salazar calls for an evaluation from Dr. Sunil Singh, a psychiatrist with the nearby Desert Palms Institute. Singh is conducting studies in psychopathic behavior, but he doesn't find it in either of the twins. He and Salazar form a mismatched duo themselves: The uncouth Salazar builds and burns miniature ships to commemorate the people he killed on duty; South African–born Sunil's insight and compassion mask a secret present and a bloody past. A man seeking revenge against Singh and a revelation about the twins lead to an unexpected ending. Abani (The Virgin of Flames, 2007, etc.) 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 Lost Souls, and the city of Las Vegas, which celebrates the dark, the hidden and the grotesque.
The Barnes & Noble Review

The week I began reading Chris Abani's The Secret History of Las Vegas, Nelson Mandela died. To the extent Americans think of apartheid at all now, they think of Mandela, the horror and his heroism combining in our blurry historical imagination to form a tragedy with a happy ending — a tragedy that belongs to the past. Most of us either never knew about places like Vlakplass, the South African apartheid death camp, and few outside of South Africa think about where any of these torturers went when they left Vlakplass. But Chris Abani has.

Some readers may be surprised that Abani's novel is a murder mystery, but it is a return to form. Abani debuted at the age of sixteen in Nigeria in 1983 with the novel Masters of the Board, a thriller that told the story of an attempted Nigerian government coup. When a coup later went off almost exactly as the novel described, he was arrested under suspicion of having planned it and thrown into prison — essentially guilty of a novel that came true. His reputation in America began two years after he moved here in exile, escaping a death sentence in Nigeria for his role in writing and performing anti-government plays outside the offices of the government. He began to document his experiences in poetry, beginning with The Kalakuta Republic in 2001, and since then he has published a book of poetry, a literary novel, or a novella in English almost annually, winning distinguished literary prizes along the way. He now lives in Los Angeles, the setting for his previous novel, The Virgin of the Flames. The Secret History of Las Vegas is his first thriller since Masters of the Board, which raises the question: Will this one also come true?

Let's hope not.

The novel has many of the features of a conventional crime novel: a detective named Salazar and an unsolved crime that obsesses him, a serial killer specializing in mass killings of the homeless who dumps their bodies outside Las Vegas. Salazar gets what he hopes is a break in the case when a ranger calls the police in on a pair of conjoined twins, Fire and Water, members of the sideshow the Carnival of Lost Souls, at first believing he had caught a single man trying to drown an infant in the ghost town's lake. This is because, to an observer, Water looks like a beautiful man, but "Fire appeared to be little more than a head with two arms, projecting out of Water's chest," and Water was, it seems, trying to drown Fire. A tub of human blood is found suspiciously close to the twins' truck, but there are no bodies nearby. As the twins speak entirely in obscenities and epigrams, refusing to answer the police's basic questions directly, Salazar brings them in for questioning and a psychological evaluation.

What Salazar doesn't know — though we do — is that the twins are the children of a desperate young woman who had the misfortune to witness an atomic test while pregnant, and who hanged herself after arranging for her children to join the sideshow. The novel is structured as several stories that move to intertwine into a larger one, and in these first chapters, as we move from each new character's point of view, a previous character reappears again as a minor character in the story of the next character.

Three chapters in, we meet a researcher named Sunil, at work at the Desert Palms Institute lab, studying the brain patterns of psychopaths, hoping to learn how to potentially cure and possibly redeem them. This, we learn eventually, is inspired partly by his own terrible history as a researcher at the South African apartheid Vlakplaas death camp. As much as he hopes to redeem the psychopaths, he hopes, with this work, to redeem himself, even as he is aware the American military is his only funder, and their interest in the turning on and off of psychopaths is likely less than innocent.

Called in by Salazar to evaluate the twins, Sunil is reluctant, but his senior at the institute insists the twins' brains could be beneficial to their study — "Just go get me those monsters" — and so Sunil leaves immediately on an errand that will change his life. For outside the Desert Palm offices, Eskia, an assassin and former member of Nelson Mandela's ANC party, sits in a car across the street. Eskia has traveled all this way to kill Sunil, who no longer believes himself to be in danger from his past; the time for Eskia's vengeance looks to have arrived. Cliffhangers all.

Written in what feels like an L.A. Noir version of Abani's customarily visceral prose, part of the pleasure of the novel is the view he gives us into the strange history of Las Vegas from Sunil, who, in exile, is fascinated by his new home, In particular,

the old bomb parties the casinos used to host back in the '50s, when the U.S. Government set off nukes in the nearby desert, sometimes as close as six miles from the city. The casinos sold package tours to see U.S. history in the making: the end of the commies and the death of the Red Threat. People flocked by the thousands to the dawn parties to watch the mushroom clouds. Minutes after the display, they would return to gambling or turn in to catch some much-needed sleep. Seats on the terrace, where one could watch the explosions while sipping on a cocktail, were fought over. Those unable to afford the parties or terraces drove out to ground zero and hiked as close as possible. The Atomic Energy Commission never turned them away, even when there were families with children.
These parties, of course, are the source of the twins, Fire and Water. Sunil moves between thoughts like this and his own violent memories of Vlakplaas, such as a study conducted to test endurance:
[T]hey would put a female baboon and her baby in a cage. Then they would start up the fire under the metal floor, slowly turning up the heat, calculating how long the mother would endure the pain before putting the baby down and standing on it. It never took that long, usually less than thirty minutes? The problem with the primate tests was that sooner or later, apes weren't enough. The first human trial at Vlakplaas of the heat test was a woman called Beatrice. No last name. Her baby didn't even get a name in the file. Just Baby.
Crime novels are reliably a stereoscope — the same story from two or more points of view — but usually of a limited kind, with just two sides: that of the investigator, and that of the criminal. The victim's contribution is usually limited to a sharp cry of pain near the beginning or the end, or a brief chapter before death. But Abani's stereoscope is much wider. While it is soon clear Sunil is the novel's antihero and the twins its bête noir, they are the poles to an intricate puzzle with rays spreading suspicion as to what the crime really is, and who is really the criminal, in prismatic directions before the climactic reveal. By opening up the novel to these many perspectives, the chapters may at times blur, but by consistently bringing into question who is guilty and of what crime, Abani also adds many sides to the story he tells so unforgettably, giving voices to otherwise voiceless victims in the process.

If a crime novel can show humanity at its worst, it also holds out the possibility for justice, and this is what allows us to continue through the dystopic vision of this world Abani has made, grounded in real events he has researched carefully. He is in pursuit of the portrayal of a violence that potentially stalks us all, a monster unaware of its past and with potentially deadly consequences for many more than the dead homeless men who haunt Detective Salazar. The irony of the figure of the conjoined twins is that they might be the least monstrous characters in the novel. What appears at the novel's heart before the murderer is unveiled is a legacy of brutality, and its true subject, these places where governments play with the lives of their citizens, in ways that make the acts of a simple killer seem a little small, whether in South Africa under apartheid or in the Las Vegas desert. The question may not be whether this beautiful, ruthless novel will come true but rather, Has it already come true? And if so, what should we do?

Alexander Chee has written for NPR Books, The New Republic, Granta, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Paris Review Daily and is a contributing writer at The Morning News. His new novel, The Queen of the Night, is forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the fall of 2014.

Reviewer: Alexander Chee

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143124955
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 283,215
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Abani is the acclaimed author of GraceLand and The Virgin of Flames. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Hemingway/PEN Prize, the PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the Hurston Wright Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, among many honors. Born in Nigeria, he is currently a Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. He lives in Chicago.

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Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***

Copyright © 2014  by Chris Abani


Four

The dying sun burnished the copper ingot of the Mandalay Bay. Next to it was the pyramid of the Luxor and, reclining in front, the light catching the gold paint of its headdress, the Sphinx. Farther to Sunil’s left, the Bellagio and the tip of the Eiffel Tower rose above Paris Las Vegas. The Venetian, his favorite, was obscured.

He loved this moment when the sun was on a slow decline, just before the abruptness of night that seemed exclusive to deserts and plains. It reminded him of the light on the South African veld. One moment bright and full, the next, gone. The veld was just like its name, a stubby felt of grass and trees and small hills that seemed to break only when the green and brown rim of it touched the sky.

For one magical summer as a seven-year-old, he’d left Soweto behind on a summer trip to see his grandmother, Marie. She lived in KwaZulu, a homeland—one of those odd geographies created arbitrarily by the apartheid state as all black enclaves within South Africa. Not unlike Native American reservations, homelands were corrals, ways to contain and further impoverish native populations: entire settlements made up of shanties leaning unevenly into the wind.

Grandma Marie lived in the foothills, and as Sunil and his mother, Dorothy, traveled higher into the old Zulu territory, the shanties disappeared. Up there, everything felt different— the pace moved only as fast as the swaying fields of corn, or the lumbering herds of zebu that roamed everywhere, horns curved like arms raised in prayer. Each cow was marked so distinctively, in so many variations of red, white, black, brown, rust, and dun, that from a distance they looked like flocks of birds littering the grass on the hillsides.

The frenetic mood of Soweto seemed then like a bad taste spat from the mouth, and the air smelled fresh and sometimes heavy with rain. There was hardly a white person to be seen, and the blacks were less suspicious of one another. The only anger was the gossip—how Lindiwe Mabena had slept with Blessing Nkosi’s husband a week after she died. How Catechist Brown was never the same after Father John passed, though no one would admit they’d been lovers. How Doreen Duduzile always miscarried because she’d had an abortion as a young woman in Cape Town, and how though she’d renounced the world and followed the Lord, she couldn’t find any respite until she confessed to the murder of her unborn child, but as his mother told Grandma Marie, there are no words for some things. Everything else was pure scent. The smell of the toffees his grandmother pressed into his palms that melted in the heat of his clutched fingers, the drying grass and herd animals that filled the air with dust and delight. And something else—butterflies—everywhere, butterflies. And at dusk, the soft purple pastel of sky blurred into the darkening grass and then, before he could count to a hundred, night.

Sunil knew that his memory was faulty, that it was so tempered by nostalgia it could offer nothing concrete, but that knowledge did nothing to diminish his joy in the recollection.

The sun in his eye brought him back to the moment, to his body standing at the window of his sixth-floor office in the nondescript building in the nondescript business park east of the strip that was home to the Desert Palms Institute. His reflection in the glass made him uncomfortable, the way the honesty of shop windows makes fat women flinch. His hair was kinky and thick like a wool cap—not quite an Afro, but close enough—his nose clearly his mother’s, the soft mouth that he believed he’d inherited from his father, and skin so dark, he could be black. His eyes were the only thing he liked about himself, soft and warm, and honey-colored flecked with green; his father’s eyes, Brahmin eyes, a strange thing for a Sikh, stranger still in an African. Sighing, he took a sip from his coffee cup and focused on the view.

Sunil loved to watch the city from his office window, high up, tracking every little change in the landscape. He knew very well the illusion of chronology, the way it gave the impression that everything moved onward, expanding on a straight line, heading toward epiphany. But events weren’t linear, they moved in circular loops that made little sense, and this disjointed reality was the only truth. Chronology, he believed, was a pattern grafted over the past to claim control and understanding, to pretend meaning. It was all shit, though, in the end. He felt people were made of little more than this: history, myth, and ritual. When he remembered his past, he remembered his father with the distance of myth.

He drew with his forefinger on the glass to connect the hotels with invisible lines, reading some esoteric Masonic notions in the pattern. Even from this far away, he could see the extravagance of it all, an extravagance that was as old as the city itself. A history buff, he knew the Jewish-Irish-Sicilian mob syndicate that built the mirage of Vegas opened grandiose hotels early. In 1952, the Sahara was designed to mimic the movie romanticism of North Africa. In 1955, the Dunes, with waitresses dressed like DeMille extras in an Arabian Nights production, and a thirty-foot-tall turbaned black sultan with crossed arms guarding the doors, appeared almost overnight. And in 1956, in the new Fremont, twelve-year-old Wayne Newton rose to fame singing “Danke Schoen.”

Vegas is really an African city, Sunil thought. What other imagination would build such a grandiose tomb to itself? And just like in every major city across Africa, from Cairo to his hometown of Johannesburg, the palatial exteriors of the city architecture barely screened the seething poverty, the homelessness, and the despair that spread in townships and shanty-towns as far as the eye could see. But just as there, here in Vegas the glamour beguiled and blinded all but those truly intent on seeing, and in this way the tinsel of it mocked the obsessive hope of those who flocked there.

In Johannesburg there had been the allure of gold and untold monies to be made in the mines. Gold so plentiful, there were hills of it. No one bothered to explain to the obsessed that the glittering hills were just a trick of the light—mounds of yellow sand dug up for the gold, the silicate glowing in the sun with false promise. No wonder he felt at home here.

He hadn’t lived in Johannesburg since White Alice left, shortly after his mother was taken to the madhouse, and he had returned only once in the years since, just after apartheid officially came to an end. He’d been shocked then to see that the once vibrant city center had turned into a ghost town. Indians and whites had emptied out, fleeing either abroad or to the suburbs. What surprised Sunil, though, was that in the wake of that flight, the city hadn’t been filled by South African blacks leaving the townships for more salubrious digs, but by Nigerian and Senegalese businessmen selling everything from the popular Nollywood movies to phone cards. The feeling of racial camaraderie hadn’t been extended to these invading blacks, who the more gentle South Africans thought were worse than Zulus, which was saying something.

Now Sunil thought of Las Vegas as home. That’s the thing about having always been a displaced person; home was not a physical space but rather an internal landscape, a feeling that he could anchor to different places. Some took easier than others, and although it was always hard work, he was good at it.

He had come to Vegas from Cape Town seven years ago to codirect a new research project at the Desert Palms Institute, which, among its many government contracts and research projects with no oversight, was studying psychopathic behavior. This was the project Sunil had come here to work on. He had expected to enjoy the work, but what he had not expected was that he would fall in love with the city.

His attention returned to the coming night and the darkness that held nothing but what was projected. Was night the same everywhere? In the Soweto of his childhood the darkness was a contradiction of lights, noise, and an absolute stillness that held only police cars cockroaching through. Here in Las Vegas, near the Strip, where it never really got dark, could anything be revealed in the bright neon? He often tried to read the faces teeming there but quickly realized that everything was obscured, even in revelation; the brightness was its own kind of night.

Noticing that the coffee had run in a tiny rivulet down the side of the cup, Sunil frowned and reached for his monogrammed handkerchief, a throwback to his childhood, to the older men in Soweto who always seemed to have a clean handkerchief on them, no matter how threadbare and patched. He wiped the rivulet away, brows furrowed in concentration.

There was an exactness to Sunil that spilled out into the world and was reflected in his sense of order: the neat row of very sharp pencils in the carved ebony holder on his desk, upright and ranked by use like soldiers on a parade ground; the sharp diagonal line connecting the brushed aluminum box of multicolored paper clips and the stapler; the small photo, not much bigger than a baseball card, held in a solid block of Perspex, angled so that it was visible to him and anyone sitting across from him.

The photo was of a man with a red turban and a thick black beard and mustache. It was eroded on one side, the man’s face disappearing under a mottled furry stain. Sunil still sometimes wondered if it really was his father or a generic photo of a guru that his mother had bought in the market. He’d been too scared to ask and he regretted that.

Against one wall, color photographs of zebu cattle were arranged like the speckled squares of a Rubik’s Cube. The riotous color and patterns of the cattle hides contradicted all his control. Like a tarot deck, Asia had said the first and only time she’d come to his office. They’d had sex on the sofa and, walking around nude, she’d stopped by the wall, mentally shuffling the framed cows, trying to read the spread. He’d felt more naked than she was in that moment, more revealed than when they had sex, and though she came to his home often after that, he never asked her back to the office again.

He sighed now and crossed to the sideboard to pour himself some more coffee, wondering if he should call her and see if she was free tonight. It was Halloween, though, and she was no doubt busier tonight than on other nights. Everyone else was.

Five

Eskia was sitting in his car in the parking lot of the Desert Palms Institute, watching Sunil’s sixth-floor office. He had followed Sunil from a distance for days, always staying just out of sight, always within touching distance. He couldn’t believe how soft America had made Sunil. In the past he would never have been able to get this close to him. Those were the days— days that Eskia both loved and hated. Days that he could never forget, never quite muster the will to leave behind. He said the word, apartheid, under his breath. The way someone says the name of a lover they want to murder and fuck at the same time. His character had been forged in that crucible, in that dysfunctional relationship. Yep, Sunil had become as soft as the police. They were the easiest to follow, they never saw it coming, their sense of complete invincibility made them blind. Eskia laughed at the thought of Sunil being like the police.

There was a small bag of biltong on the seat beside him and he chewed thoughtfully on the cured meat, grateful that he’d been able to get it past customs. The last time he’d had to make do with American jerky. He took a swig from the Dr Pepper that was not as cold as he liked it, and a bite of biltong, and looked up at the window he had seen Sunil standing in. It didn’t seem to bother Eskia that he was in plain sight in the parking lot and that the thick-rimmed plastic-framed glasses were the only disguise he wore. It was surprising how people never gave nerds a second glance, how this look always blurred into a generic account if witnesses were pressed to recall who they’d seen.

He’d learned from his years working undercover for the African National Congress, the political party Nelson Mandela led, that this disguise was most effective on white people. Something about a black man in thick Clark Kent glasses threw off their balance and they simply edited him out of their perceptual reality. He even checked into hotels under the name Clark Kent, and no one ever made a joke when he presented his papers, pushing his oversize glasses up his nose. Not at the hotels, not at the airport or in customs or immigration: nowhere. If it worked for Superman, he always said, it was good enough for him. Besides, the security guards at the institute were predictable and not paid well.

What he’d come for would be easier than he thought, but no less fun. He was here to kill Sunil.

He leaned back to wait. He was good at that.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2014

    The Secret History of Las Vegas is an unsettling exploration in


    The Secret History of Las Vegas is an unsettling exploration into those violent and catastrophic moments that punctuate our sense of history as the story of human progress. It tells the story of Sunil Singh, a half Sikh, half Zulu South African psychiatrist who comes to Vegas, desperate to forget his involvement in the torture and death of many during the apartheid regime. In Vegas, Sunil is still plying the old trade. But this time, he conducts experiments on apes as part of a research project funded by the US military—to produce a serum that can manipulate psychopathic behaviors in humans. One day, he receives a call from Detective Salazar who is investigating a fresh case of dead bodies of homeless men found in dumps. While Salazar is trying to figure out whether these bodies are connected to a similar incident two years before, he finds a pair of conjoined twins in the vicinity of the body dump. Hoping that they are the serial killers he’s been looking for, Salazar asks Sunil to evaluate the deformed twin for psychopathic behavior. Sunil, Salazar, and the conjoined twin—named Fire and Water—become intertwined in a convoluted skein of stories bearing out the link between history, violence, and secrecy.
    Abani’s novel has all the titillating elements that make crime fiction captivating—murders, prostitution, torture, forbidden love, government conspiracies, and so on. These elements are blended with an artistic sleight of hand that only a seasoned literary craftsman can muster (Secret History is Abani’s 4th novel).  But what makes Abani’s novel so intensely gripping yet conceptually layered is the underlying metaphor of secrets. In Abani’s expert hands, the crime-fiction plot, driven by the secrecy of a violent crime, becomes a conceit for history itself.
    As Sunil observes, “even in revelation,” Las Vegas is “obscured.” It’s “brightness was its own kind of night.” The cities we love the most are often those that, like Las Vegas, cast over our eyes a magical veil made of bright lights and big dreams. How do we get to the heart of a such a dissembling city? How do we unveil the darkness behind all that light? Abani’s novel offers us a way. It says to chase those nearly forgotten stories about the past that have become little more than “a confounding mix of hoaxes and urban legends”—stories about underground nuclear testing causing birth deformities, stories about desert ghost towns populated by this deformed humanity, stories about human bodies tortured and discarded in shallow graves during South Africa’s apartheid regime.
    Abani’s novel seems to suggest that a true study of history—something that only the novelist can do— is divination. The truth about history does not reside in the hard, clear facts. These so-called outlandish narratives about the past of a city—every city has them—are divinatory beads on which we can “read the mind of the landscape, uncover its intentions and motives, and recalibrates is secret histories.” Abani’s novel is simultaneously a heart-pounding thriller and a brilliant thesis on history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Fire and Water, two conjoined twins, lose their mother at a very

    Fire and Water, two conjoined twins, lose their mother at a very young age. Having absorbed the radiation from the nuclear experiments conducted in Nevada, she is dying of cancer and chooses her own exit. One of the twins speaks normally in response to conversation with others but the other refuses to look at others and repeats factual statements about random subjects, sometimes at a normal pace, sometimes rapidly in a way that seems to the reader to be associated with extreme stress being experienced from other person’s questions or comments. Fire and Water are now being, in a sense, abused by two doctors who think they would make excellent subjects for drug experimentation. Subtlety and very real, direct statements evoke anger and poignant feelings in the reader as this part of the surrealistic plot unfolds!
    Salazar, a detective, and Sunil, a research physician, unite with a common goal. Someone has been dumping bodies in the outskirts of Las Vegas. Salazar is determined to prove it is the twins who are guilty of murder, but Sunil gradually comes to some very powerful realizations about everyone involved in this criminal investigation, including Salazar and Sunil’s boss. What makes this a fascinating journey is that for Sunil, in some unexplainable way, it brings back horrific memories of his family and the hell of apartheid practices in Africa – whether that be in Soweto, Johannesburg, or a little known place notorious for its death camps!
    Mixed in between the investigation and memories are exquisite stories, folk tales, scenic descriptions and more delights that turn this into a very literary story about how memories and histories shape us. Even the ghost towns left behind after the nuclear explosions are explored with grace and grit!
    When we refuse to face both the lovely and the horrific, we become like the character Eskia, who is hunting Sunil with a psychopathic purpose. When we face them, as we see in this novel, there is truly a chance for forgiveness and change, redemption, salvation, call it what you will!
    Years ago, this reviewer remembers Bishop Desmond Tutu beginning a campaign to get the perpetrators of severe violence meet with their victims and what a healing process that turned out for the majority of those who responded or at least tried to respond. This novel by Chris Abani reminded me of that period of African history but unlike that process, the reader here is invited to join the journey, perhaps vicariously if that is possible, and is left with questions and ponderings that bring some understanding and some soul-searching about the past and present, our history!
    Chris Abani is a literate, sensitive author who brooks no fools with platitudes or mundane commentary. Even tough-minded Salazar in a unique fashion cannot help but be changed because of this exploration of a secret history in Las Vegas and that of Water, Fire, Sunil, Asia (a loving prostitute, and Sheila. All are richer for their large or small part in the challenges wrought by their interaction. Superb historical and contemporary fiction! Highly recommended!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    People tell us that different is okay. That someone who is diffe

    People tell us that different is okay. That someone who is different physically, mentally, is acceptable.
    They are still human. So…treat them as such. It’s not their fault that they are different.

    But what if we are the cause of this deformity? What if we researched and experimented too much into science that
    WE are the cause of such physical deform on innocent people? What do the “subjects” become then?

    In the new Chris Abani book “The Secret History of Las Vegas we get a close encounter look at Mystery of brothers that
    are “linked” like no other; Horror of multiple unnamed bodies for an almost-retired Homicide Detective that many believe
    he should have retired years before; and an inside look at a troubled minded psychiatrist from South Africa who can trump
    the mystery and horror throughout the book. 

    One man is trying to get answer to put his conscience at rest; one is trying to fight the demons of his past that may
    be resulting in a disease that twists the very fabric of one’s souls; while two souls that have been linked together
    since their birth, that have been looked upon with horror may have something to offer.

    If you are into a good twist in a mystery; be thrilled beyond your belief and have a little understanding of someone
    that went through trials and tribulations throughout their whole life in South Africa and trying to bring himself back into
    reality with the sounds and lights of Las Vegas…..then this new book is waiting for you to begin it’s long journey!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 19, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    4.5 Stars 'The Secret History of Las Vegas' is a compelling and

    4.5 Stars

    'The Secret History of Las Vegas' is a compelling and gritty mystery that takes readers on a thrill ride across the world to solve the case of a serial killer. There are several smaller story lines mixed into the main plot, which makes the book multilayered and mind bending. All the different stories seem disjointed when we first read about them, but it becomes increasingly clear the further into the book how they are all connected. I loved seeing how the puzzle pieces of the mystery fit together to leave the reader questioning everything they thought they knew and then having it all turned completely upside down. There were tons of fantastic twists and turns that kept me guessing throughout the entire book - which is always a sure sign of an incredible author. The book's characters, multiple settings, twists and turns, and the smaller story lines woven together make this story one that warrants more than a single reading. It's one of those books that you have to read a few times to pick up on all the clues and nuances that you missed each time before. The writing was impeccable with intense descriptions and vivid imagery. I found myself mesmerized by the way the author wrote as well as the story he told so much that I felt I myself was amid the characters in the book. With so many different layers, unbelievable twists, and flawed characters - this is a book that will hook readers within the first page. Very highly recommended for fans of mysteries as well as readers who want to shake things up and read something altogether fresh and original. I will definitely be reading the rest of the author's books and re-reading this one while we await his next release.

    Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2014

    Original and Well-Written

    An enticing story with unique characters. Wholly original, I found this to be a fantastic tale. The writing and pacing made this a good page-turner. Recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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