Charles Fleming, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur $24.95 (340p) ISBN 978-0-312-27464-1

Something about the gaudy, vulgar, appalling milieu of Las Vegas seems to defeat filmmakers (except for the original Ocean's 11), and writers too, as this first novel by Fleming confirms. The sprawling narrative repels more than it fascinates, eventually falling victim to its own excesses. In 1955 Vegas, a talented white trumpeter named Deacon is asked by Mo "the Man" Weiner, owner of the Thunderbird casino, to do a hit job on a certain messenger from L.A. The messenger is carrying a suitcase containing something of vital importance to Thomas Haney, top cop on the Vegas strip, who'll do anything to get hold of it. Meanwhile, Worthless Worthington Jones, an ex-boxer, plans to open the first black casino, the Ivory Coast, with the help of silent partner Mo. The author has evoked a lost era of high living and conspicuous consumption with clarity and persuasiveness, so much so that you can choke on the unfiltered cigarette smoke wafting from the blaring, neon-lit town. What's more, he understands the psychology of its denizens: "When a real gambler starts losing real money, the money becomes unreal. First, losing the money loses significance, and then losing the money becomes the entire point." Alas, the book falls back on most of the old Vegas clichés, with name dropping aplenty (Sinatra, Dino, Satchmo, Ella, et al.). More regrettably, Fleming saturates the plot in violence, which erupts periodically and pointlessly, so that the novel, in spite of its epic pretensions, comes up snake eyes. (Feb. 25)

Forecast:A smartly designed jacket (with a pair of dice as "O"s) and the recent remake of Ocean's 11 may give this novel a boost. The author's status as a frequent contributor to Vanity Fair as well as a former staff writer for Newsweek and Variety should help even more.

Reviewed on: 01/14/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 978-0-312-70427-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-312-42214-1
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