Friday, February 11, 2011

Shark Bait Surprise in Sin City

[ARC Review]


In a city that never sleeps, there’s always something going on--whether it’s something fun, exciting, sad, unbelievable, scary, dangerous, sexy, or weird (and that’s just for starters).
Most of us wouldn’t expect to experience all of them in a 24-hour period, though.
Then again, no other city is quite like Las Vegas... that glitzy-against-all-odds desert playground where all bets are off when it comes to finding oneself in crazy situations.  
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Last year, newcomer Deborah Coonts whetted our appetites with her delicious delight of a debut, Wanna Get Lucky--a rollicking-good-time of a mystery set in Sin City. (Haven't read it yet? Check out my review, here.) Now, she’s serving up a tasty second course with Lucky Stiff, which picks up the action a couple months later. 
Long-suffering, thirty-something head of the prestigious Babylon hotel’s customer relations department, Lucky O’Toole, is still doing what she does best... racing around on high heels, putting out (figural) fires, placating unhappy guests with comps and perks (while more-or-less gracefully extricating others from embarrassing jams), kowtowing to big-whigs and wannabes all desperate to be seen at the elite Vegas venue, and coordinating everything with the rest of the huge hotel’s staff. (Piece of cake, right? Well, no, but it is all in a day's work for Ms. O'Toole.)
There have been a few changes in the interim... Lucky recently learned a Really Big Secret about her employer, Vegas legend Arthur Rothstein (aka the “Big Boss”)--and she’s determined to make sure it remains secret. She has also renewed her efforts to work on her relationship with Mona, the flamboyant owner of a pink-and-purple bordello outside of town (widely regarded as the area’s best whorehouse)... who just so happens to be her mother. (What... doesn’t everyone drop off bags of the newest porno releases at her mother’s house?) Definitely the biggest change, though, is that Lucky is now, officially, one half of A Couple. After finally giving in to her heart (okay, maybe it was her libido), Lucky and (now)ex-female impersonator Teddie have become a bonafide item... but she’s discovering that being in a relationship is a whole new game of chance, complete with a set of rules she’s still scrambling to learn.
There really is always something happening in Vegas--especially in a joint like the Babylon--and in Lucky Stiff, our plucky “fixer” of problems will need to call on every bit of that signature luck if she plans to walk away with her job, her happiness, and maybe even her life, in tact...
Her day (well, make that her very-late-night) starts off with a bang, when a semi-truck full of honey bees en route to a weekend entomology convention at the hotel jack-knifes and overturns a block away, releasing a million angry, dislodged bees. (Despite initially entertaining the milling crowd, you can guess how that bit of hilarity plays out, can’t you?) 
Fresh from dealing with the bee problem, Lucky has the misfortune to witness the tail-end of a heated argument between her Aussie private eye friend, “the beautiful Jeremy Whitlock” (yes, you read that right), and a nasty piece of work, the infamous oddsmaker Numbers Neidermeyer. Then, it’s off to rescue a naked man--now hiding in a supply closet--who has managed to lock himself out of his room. (Nothing too unusual... except that this particular guest clad only in goosebumps happens to be Vegas‘ District Attorney.) And of course, there are all the usual preparations for the never-ending special events; besides the entomologists’ convention, this is also “fight weekend”, featuring an aging former champ who’s attempting to regain the title, one last time. 
Unfortunately, those things pale in comparison to what happens the next day, when Lucky is shocked to learn that Numbers is now very (gruesomely) dead and that the beautiful Jeremy Whitlock is Suspect Numero Uno. As for the person out for the Aussie’s blood? None other than a certain recently over-exposed District Attorney. 
Lucky’s mother drops the next bombshell, announcing an impending public auction... with a (certified!) virgin going to the highest bidder. (Yes, really, and that's all I'm going to say about it.)
And then there’s Teddie, who has given up his impersonation gig to focus on making his own music. He’s jetting off to a big audition in L.A., leaving Lucky feeling out of sorts and insecure about their future. 
Over the next few days, Lucky races around the city and over the desert in an assortment of fast cars (plus one painfully-slow, sub-compact economy thing) and a helicopter, trying to clear her friend’s name and do what she can to change the mind of a certain virgin... while also dealing with the insanity surrounding the big fight, a young pop singer with eyes (and no doubt many other nubile parts) for Lucky’s man, a hunky Hollywood hero (and old friend) with a very interesting proposition, the Babylon’s temperamental new French chef (who creates more sizzle than just what comes out of the pans simmering on the Aga in his kitchen)... plus the unknown someone who really, really wants Lucky to stop investigating Numbers‘ death.
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Continuing the pattern established in the first book, Lucky Stiff hits the ground running and doesn’t pause for air until the final page (and actually, not even then). Coonts has a real flair for assembling a nifty set of characters--from the likably loopy to the uniquely unexpected to the deliciously devious to the downright dastardly--which she then tosses into her bubbling stew, liberally peppered with lust, desire, guilt, and hope. Situations that would seem totally over-the-top in another setting are somehow entirely believable in this one, and all the showy excess and excitement are as in-your-face as if you were walking down the neon-lit Strip at Lucky's side. 
Coonts shows a restrained sensitivity, as well, which nicely balances the breezy fun and the derring-do. There’s an undercurrent of melancholy, as Lucky--who has experienced firsthand both the classic Vegas "cool" and the newer, slicker machine that her city has since morphed into--straddles the line between the charismatic old-school players and the cold corporate concerns. Her vulnerability is front and center, too; she may be a smart, competent cookie with a quick wit and killer personality, but she’s as full of insecurities and uncertainties as anyone else. It’s easy to care about what happens to her (and to everyone else in her orbit). 
Lucky Stiff shines as brightly as the nightly Fremont Street Experience light show, but is full of those little pockets of darkness found only down the blackest alleyways... and the heady mix that results is one you do not want to miss. (Lucky Stiff will be released 2/15/11.)





GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4.5 Mousies


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