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The Secret History of Las Vegas

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  979 ratings  ·  167 reviews
A gritty, riveting, and wholly original murder mystery from PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author and 2015 Edgar Awards winner Chris Abani

Before he can retire, Las Vegas detective Salazar is determined to solve a recent spate of murders. When he encounters a pair of conjoined twins with a container of blood near their car, he’s sure he has apprehended the killers, and enlist
Paperback, 336 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Penguin Books
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Average rating 3.52  · 
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 ·  979 ratings  ·  167 reviews

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May 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
I had to DNF this because it was so horrible and disgusting. If you want to read about the worst of humanity, read this book. I'm on page 22 and there's already been a suicide, leukemia, a racist cop who shot an unarmed black man to death, another pair of racist/ablest cops who accuse a black pair of conjoined twins of being serial killers for no other reason than the fact that they are black and conjoined, and torturing animals, specifically torturing mother baboons with newborn babies to death ...more
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
With “The Secret History of Las Vegas” a new genre emerges: Horror/Mystery/Literary Fiction. The book is chilling and not recommended for the faint of heart or easily squeamish. Deformity is the central theme in this book and that deformity can take many forms including physical or mental or emotional or some combination of the three. Sunil is a psychiatrist who grew up in South Africa and lived through some horrific things only to escape to the US only to find situations that are just as terrib ...more
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
The lavishly talented poet, novelist, playwright, and publisher Chris Abani began his writing career in Nigeria at sixteen with a satirical political novel, Masters of the Board, and followed up with political plays meant to be performed on the street. He was jailed in Nigeria three times in the 1980s, then moved to England and onward to the United States. He continues to accumulate awards for his edgy poetry and prose, publishes The Black Goat Poetry Series, an imprint of Akashic Press, and tea ...more
Was my thought when I finished the last hauntingly suspenseful page of this intensely intimate novel exploring the human soul seeking redemption, revenge and acceptance to the question what do we owe to others and ourselves for their roles in our lives.
While I have read other Abani’s novels in the past, I was not quite sure what to expect as this book seemed it would a departure from his other work. So I was pleasantly surprised when discovering this was much more than a standard myste
Book Riot Community
Everything about this novel was fantastic which left me kicking myself for not having read Abani sooner but excited that I have his back catalog to dive into. The writing is excellent; the story is captivating, disturbing, and dark; and the fringe characters create so much uniqueness and depth–from the conjoined twins (Fire and Water) to Sunil (a doctor that specializes in sociopaths)–that I could not put this book down. Abani expertly blends literary fiction, mystery, and horror as a detective ...more
Elizabeth A
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
I'm headed to Las Vegas next week to visit family, so thought it would be the perfect time to read this one. And holy moly, but where has Chris Abani been all my life?

Here is the premise: Before he can retire, Las Vegas detective Salazar is determined to solve a recent spate of murders. When he encounters a pair of conjoined twins with a container of blood near their car, he’s sure he has apprehended the killers, and enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant who specializes
Lisa Nienhaus
Feb 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
You know I really didn't care for this book. I finished it, which means it isn't all bad. But here is what I disliked about the book:
1. The book never used quotation marks in the dialogue. This makes dialogue hard to follow and confusing.
2. The story would go from riding in a car, to a flash back and then back to the current car ride with no warning. I find this very hard to keep up with, and found myself re-reading things wondering what I missed.
3. The cover of this book describes this book as
Sandra Settevig
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting characters, plot doesn't sustain momentum. ...more
Jane Ciabattari
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Chris Abani (and The Secret History of Las Vegas) included in this Between the Lines column for
May 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: diverse-books
For my video review of the book, go here:

I thought this was a very interesting story. It wasn't quite what I expected from the summary on the inside flap--I thought it would be a murder mystery, but the cause of the mysterious deaths the detective is investigating is revealed to the reader almost immediately. That being said, there are still some mysterious elements to the story, such as the motivations of a pair of conjoined twins, which are worked out over time. I
Kristin  (MyBookishWays Reviews)

Over the course of a couple of years, the bodies of homeless men have been turning up along the shores of Lake Mead, right outside of Las Vegas. Not just one or two at a time, either, but piles of bodies. Detective Salazar has been working the case, and, on the cusp of retirement, he’s determined to put it to rest, as the last good thing he can do. All of the dead are a burden on his soul, but it’s one body that stood out the most, that of a red headed you
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book wasn't really what I expected. It's hard to review in any meaningful way without giving away the secrets of the book, which are the real reason to read it. The premise is that a set of conjoined twins (Fire and Water) are discovered near a barrel of blood near Las Vegas. Detective Salazar, a LV detective near retirement, wants to solve a case involving body dumps of many homeless men and one young woman; he feels that the twins might somehow be involved. He elicits the help of Dr. Suni ...more
Sep 18, 2015 rated it liked it
It makes me irrationally angry when authors don't use quotation marks for dialogue, or at least old style dashes. It's such an easy thing to do, and it makes everything so much more readable. It's like using paragraphs. Yes, all authors do it, but they do it for a good reason. People who make the 'artistic' choice not to do it just piss me off. Oh, you're too fucking good for quotation marks? Well I'm too fucking good for this book.

I'm kind of glad I persevered with this book, but it could have
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this book back when it came out. I just realized that I never got around to writing my review of this book. Not because I did not like this book but because I loved this "freakin" book. It was both a combination of awesomeness and freaky. I was so in awe of what I read that I needed to digest everything before I wrote a review. Although I must admit in the beginning I was not sure what I was reading. Yet, the further I read the more I liked the story and the characters. This book has the ...more
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is part detective thriller and part literary fiction. Abani is an incredible writer, with a voice that creates interesting, dynamic characters. I heard him describe this book at a recent conference as a "detective novel about a pair of conjoined twins that may or may not be serial killers." Throw in some major guilty flashbacks from South African upbringing for the main character, and that's a pretty spot-on description. I was enthralled with the book from the first page, and am still ...more
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
I really thought I would enjoy this book because I enjoyed his Graceland and other reviewers who I follow and respect gave it high marks. I had one of those "what's wrong with me" instances where you're not quite understanding how others have loved the book and you're like this lone wolf out there alone. I just don't get it. This one really, really disappointed me. ...more
Kima Jones
Apr 17, 2014 rated it liked it
An absolute triumph in originality and its take on the noir. Asia's character--however--did not satisfy. Extremely well done save for the ending which fell flat. ...more
Tony Snyder
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-reads
Wrenching, delicate, breathtaking, brutal. Read it.
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I happened to randomly pick up this book as I was strolling past the infinite library shelves & am VERY glad I did! Not only was it a compelling page-turner, as every mystery should be, but it was beautifully written & far more complex than your average mystery—exploring ideas about human connection to the past, both physical & remembered, the connections between people and place, the ramifications of apartheid in South Africa (ever present for those who endured it), and how we view and behave t ...more
Leah Haugen
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, 2018
So anticlimactic. The book was building and building the whole time and then POOF. Everything happened and that was the end. And the author doesn't use quotation marks!!! ...more
Hannah Dolins
May 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Very slow at times, but incredibly shocking ending! (For me, at least)
Dec 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is not for people who would like to pretend the world is a soft and fluffy place filled with rainbows and unicorns. This book *is* for people who seek unflinching insight into the nature of apartheid— not as some long ago historic occurrence— but as a state of oppression in which all people— oppressors and oppressed— lost pieces of their humanity, and struggle to recover them to this day. This is a story about how that loss of humanity is not unique to apartheid, but can occur in the e ...more
Amber Williams
May 09, 2014 rated it liked it
I have very complex emotions about this book. I think it might be easier for me if I bullet point my thoughts about this novel.

- I like how experimental it is. No. I love how experimental it is. I am normally not a fan of literary fiction (for numerous reason) but I adore when authors toy around with what they can pull off. All too often lit fic bores me because, to me, it reads all too similar to the one before it. Perhaps it's because literary fiction takes place in a universe familiar to thos
Charles Dee Mitchell
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Two years before this novel begins, Inspector Salazar had to leave unsolved the serial killing of homeless men in the Las Vegas area. The bodies were found dumped in the Lake Mead area. Abani’s novel opens with Salazar contemplating a fresh pile of corpses and facing the fact that the killer has begun his work again. But this time Salazar has suspects. Fire and Water are conjoined twins who, when arrested for swimming in an off-limit section of the lake, are discovered with a five-gallon drum of ...more
Robert Intriago
Jan 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, 2014
A difficult book to describe. At first look it is a mystery but as you read on you discover that the author has a social agenda that he wants to convey, so that he jumps back and forth between the mystery and his social agenda. This can be distracting until you understand that Mr. Abani, is trying to make a commentary on the issues that brought him to America from Nigeria.

The book is populated by all kind of strange characters: Siamese twins, midgets, prostitutes, psychopaths, a Cuban-American p
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Chris Abani is the sort of person who enters a room and the temperature goes up about ten degrees. He's like a lion-- he has a very commanding presence both in person and on the page. I was not expecting to be so drawn into a mystery like this one. The book has an incredibly convincing plot played out by unforgettable characters with deeply disturbing back-stories. Some dark stuff. And some light stuff. Who else could convince me of conjoined twins as murder suspects, a motley crew of freakish y ...more
Jul 15, 2017 rated it liked it
I picked up this book randomly in my quest to read all of the books in the library. I couldn't tell if it was fiction or nonfiction at first but I quickly realized it was definitely fiction. I couldn't really get into this book, the characters were all so awful! The cop who is determined to pin these murders on the freaky twins he finds in the lake because he has already made up his mind, meanwhile, it turns out the doctor he asks for help is actually responsible. The fact that Sunil could do su ...more
David Anderson
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What an outrageous blend of political thriller/mystery/noir/horror/revenge fantasy! Every well-developed character has a dark past: Salazar, the Cuban-American detective striving to close the book on a case involving the mass murders of homeless men before he retires; half Zulu, half Indian Sunil Singh, psychiatric researcher investigating the possibility of controlled psychopathy for a government funded research center who also has a dark past in apartheid South Africa; Eskia, operative for the ...more
Laura Durham
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I discovered that Abani is a poet, this book made even more sense to me. It feels poetic and experimental. The language is lovely. This is the kind of book that imprints on you.

If you prefer your fiction to be conventional, linear, and to have a happy ending then this isn't the book for you. I found the story to be compelling and fascinating. I was pulled through to the end and was rewarded with a nice twist. Gritty, of course. But this is Las Vegas.

Recommended especially for writers. Abani
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. I thought I was getting a quirky book about the underbelly of Las Vegas with a little magical realism thrown into the mix. What I got was a modern noir, one that explores how the big, horrible stuff humans do (apartheid, racism, sexual abuse, authoritarianism) is like a nuclear bomb to society, it's destruction radiating out and poisoning us for years and years. Sadly, a very timely read.

Really brutal, powerful stuff, written about in a spare, but excellent way. One of the best books I
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Christopher Abani (or Chris Abani) is a Nigerian author.

He was a political prisoner in Nigeria at various times during 1985 and 1991. At times he was held in solitary confinement and he was held on death row for some time after being sentenced to death for treason.

He is a Professor at the University of California, Riverside and the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the 2001 Prince C

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“We are hunting the demons that haunt others. We get a smell and off we go. And you know why, Sunil? You know why we are so good at hunting the demons of others? Because we are so good, gifted even, at stalking and evading our own. But all demons hunters think that they are really heroes, and you know what all heroes need?” 4 likes
“circles of hell. He hated to admit it, but Eugene had been right in his choice of Inferno, except their interpretations differed. Where Eugene saw only the internal battle of the privileged soul, Sunil saw the entire architecture and structures of racism and apartheid: three concentric circles of life and economics. Color-coded circles for easy understanding, whites at the heart, coloreds at the next remove, and finally, the blacks at the outermost circle; the closest to hell—the strange inverse sense of apartheid.” 1 likes
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