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Spring Break Reads with a Sin City Theme

Librarian Priscilla Finley recommends some of her favorite Las Vegas-set reads for the beach or your backyard.

Arts & Culture  |  Apr 5, 2017  |  By UNLV News Center
several books

With spring break just around the corner, you may be looking for a good to read while you travel, as you enjoy the beach, or even from the comfort of your own home. A new exhibit from University Libraries, Writers Imagine Las Vegas: Our City in Fiction, contains more than 80 books you could enjoy, each with Las Vegas as a backdrop. Here, Priscilla Finley, humanities librarian and curator of the exhibit, recommends some of her favorites.


Gangsterland by Tod GoldbergGangsterland cover

After leaving three FBI agents dead in Chicago, mobster Sal Cupertine must cut all ties with his family and business associates and begin life anew as Rabbi David Cohen in Summerlin. While studying Hebrew and holy texts, he discovers a talent for counseling members of his community. However, new business opportunities connected with the synagogue's cemetery expansion prove hard to resist. Locals will recognize the Bagel Cafe among many familiar Summerlin locations where the action of this darkly comic morality tale takes place.

Dragonfish by Vu TranDragonfish cover

Oakland cop Robert had immersed himself in his work after his wife, Vietnamese-immigrant Suzy, left him. When he is summoned to Las Vegas to search for a missing Suzy, Robert meets her card-shark daughter Mai and realizes how little he knows about his ex-wife’s life as a refugee. Tran, who earned a Ph.D. in English at UNLV, shifts narration between letters and diary entries written by Suzy in the distant past and the present-day efforts of people who love her and who have been hurt by her as they try to piece together the story from evidence left behind in the Las Vegas rooms she once occupied.

Last Call by Tim PowersLast Call cover

It turns out that Bugsy Siegel was the mythical Fisher King of the American West. When he ends up at the bottom of Lake Mead, aspirants scramble to become his successor via a hand of poker played aboard a houseboat with tarot cards. This fast-paced ghost fantasy novel falls somewhere between T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and the movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and is the first book in a fun trilogy that explores the movement of souls between bodies in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The Mirror Thief by Martin SeayThe Mirror Thief cover

A mysterious book of poetry links interlocking tales of a mirror maker in 16th century Venice; a young grifter in 1950s Venice Beach, California; and a veteran-turned-private investigator at the Venetian in 2003. Seay explores illusions and gambles of many types in his expansive debut novel. Fans of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose or Neal Stephenson will want to dive into this one.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye WatkinsGold Fame Citrus cover

Most of this book of speculative fiction takes place in the Amargosa Valley on the leading edge of a devastating, ever-advancing sand dune, so technically it's not set in Las Vegas. The title refers to the motivations that drew migrants to Los Angeles before climate change; in the face of catastrophic drought and desertification, only a very few Californians choose to avoid government resettlement camps and find ways to survive. Luz, the story's hero, must dig deep to redefine herself, finding the core of her identity as every element of her environment is destroyed and replaced. Watkins is a Pahrump native and returns there every summer to lead the Mojave School, a creative writing camp for rural Nevada teens.

’Round Midnight by Laura McBride’Round Midnight cover

If you're reading this after May 2017, look for the newly released novel by local author McBride, which looks at the lives of four women whose paths cross in a Las Vegas nightclub called the Midnight Room. With sections set in 1960, 1992, and 2010, readers see these women's opportunities expand as the city develops.

To find more novels set in Las Vegas, visit the Writers Imagine Las Vegas: Our City in Fiction exhibit on display at Lied Library through June.