Welcome to the first ever Snap Judgment Book Review. This was written in 10 minutes. Hopefully it's not just a bunch of blather.
1) What book is it and what was the plot?
I just finished The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani. The plot follows two different protagonists, Sunil, a sikh from South Africa, and Detective Salazar, an old detective who is trying to close out his last case (cliche, I know). After two years, a rash of murders starts up again and Salazar is forced to contact Sunil, who is a psychologist, in order to construct a profile on conjoined twins Salazar finds at Lake Mead, where a collection of bodies had been found. Salazar and Sunil both work through their own trauma and past as they seek the answers of a mass murderer, and the psychopathic nature of humanity.
2) What are the strong points of the book?
Chris Abani has a narrative flow that works so well. It is sparse, and immersive. Not for a moment did I feel outside, looking in, instead I constantly felt as though I was right along for the ride.
3) What doesn't work?
Detective Salazar, despite Abani's best efforts, takes a back seat to the story next to Sunil. I didn't mind too much, as Sunil was a much more interesting character, but at times I felt as though Salazar was a place holder for every run down, beat down detective.
4) What is the subject matter/deeper nature of this book?
This book deals with a couple overlooked historical monstrosities. Apartheid, and the nuclear bomb tests during the 1950s in Nevada and the consequential mutations and deaths both events caused. This book, first and foremost, is how people justify the means to do what they think will make the world better. Sunil's past is filled with regret, his actions were monstrous, but he justifies them in a multitude of ways. The story question, if there is one, is this: How do we see ourselves, and live with who we truly are? Does that reflection leave us broken and violent? Or does it propel us to be better? Oftentimes, the book says, the former wins out.
5) Who will like this book?
Anyone who enjoys literature of the weird. Here, I'm thinking Thomas Ligotti, Jeff VanderMeer, even H.P. Lovecraft. This book is billed, judging by the back cover, as a detective novel, but it's much more of a weird, horror story. As much as I dislike comparing books to movies, if you enjoyed the films, Pan's Labyrinth, or Beasts of The Southern Wilds, this book may be to your liking, also.