When novelists select a city in which to set a story, they know they can count on their chosen metropolis to provide richness and authenticity. Usually, that’s the extent of the city’s role in a narrative, but when the chosen venue is Las Vegas, the dynamic changes. Deborah Coonts’ first novel, Wanna Get Lucky? is an excellent example of how Las Vegas does the Borg any time an author invites it in. Fortunately, Coonts was ready with a mighty pen to take on the neon beast. Also fortunately, she adheres to the old adage: “If you can’t tame it, hop on its back and enjoy the ride.”
In Lucky Stiff, Coonts has seized Las Vegas by the horns and stingers, and this isn’t an analogy. The story opens with a spilled truckload of angry bees attacking tourists on the Strip. The great bee release is only the first in a very long string of challenges Lucky O’Toole, head of customer relations at the Babylon resort, must deal with. The horns enter the story on the heads of an equally long string of hot dudes who’d like to get Lucky on the sofa in her office.
A mystery at its well-plotted core -– an unpopular bookie has been shredded by the sharks at Mandalay Bay -– Lucky Stiff is a non-stop theme park ride on the rails of Lucky’s emotions. The ups and downs are caused by her soul mate Teddie, whom we met in the first Lucky adventure as a cross-dressing lounge singer. Now, thanks in part to Lucky, his considerable talents as a singer, pianist, and songwriter have earned him a big break in Hollywood. Will Lucky lose Teddie to his new career? Join her as love and lust take her to Everest, then dash her below sea level when fear takes hold. It’s no wonder she usually holds up two fingers when ordering bourbon. While she’s riding the love coaster, she must also deal with oh-so-Vegas scenarios like a naked district attorney hiding in a laundry room, a Mexican prize fighter with sixteen kids, and a virginity auction at her mother’s brothel in Pahrump. Oh, and the bees.
Wacky, funny, sexy -– it’s a persona that fits Las Vegas well. Add in a mystery with more than one twist, and it’s easy to add that other phrase that describes our city so aptly: over the top. I’m left with one question: what’s next? Fortunately, the answer is on the way. The next Lucky O’Toole mystery is already in the pipeline.