OUR MAN IN VEGAS (NOVELLA)
GARY RABUZZI (2020)
In something of a first for me, I had this book submitted to me for review. My man Koop Kooper of The Cocktail Nation radio show podcast had author Gary Rabuzzi on the show to talk about his new book, Our Man in Vegas. Kooper reached out to me as he had suggested to Rabuzzi that he send me his book. As a member in good standing of the Vintage Media community, I gladly agreed to give it a perusal.
Eddie Flynn is a comic working the lounges in 1961 Las Vegas. He has a checkered, mildly criminal past that features one, glaring transgression that he is trying to forget. He’s approached by a gorgeous dish on whom he hangs the appellation Kir Royale who seems to know everything about him. Royale has need of a world-class cat burglar and – making use of the skeletons in Eddie’s chifforobe – he’s the thief she’s tapped. When Eddie bristles, Royale gets insistent and Flynn is recruited to help the CIA.
Casino owner Skip Heywood is a real crumb. He’s a racist in snakeskin boots who is aligned with some “out there” groups with Fascist bents. Turns out Heywood is in cahoots with mercenary-types and together they are planning to “take the first crack at Kennedy”. Heywood keeps a moleskin ledger in his office safe that contains information on his confederates and Royale wants light-fingered Eddie to get the book by any means necessary.
Eddie reluctantly complies and recruits his buddy, beatnik jazzbo vibraphonist Gib Logan, to help out. Gib is an old confederate of Eddie’s and he’s also a deft safecracker. Eddie figures the best way to get close to Skip is through his squeeze, lounge singer Lola Trenier. Eddie plans to ask Skip if he can add Lola to his act and case Heywood’s office while he’s at it. Although Skip and Lola are something of an item, Eddie falls for Lola. While she’s opening for Eddie one night, Flynn and Gib make their move. They break in to Skip’s office and steal the ledger. A little sleight-of-hand, some gunplay and some fast-paced action lead to an exciting climax.
Gary Rabuzzi’s third book is a nifty little pulp novel. Not only does it call to mind the era of the train-station paperback meant to be read on the commute or curled up in a chair on a Friday night when there’s nothing much on the radio but it also reads like one of those books of old. Gary’s novella has been influenced by many mid-century figures and tales, including those pictured above. A story that moves briskly, Rabuzzi applies a staccato style of writing that falls in line with the likes of Donald Hamilton, Brett Halliday and John D. MacDonald and Eddie Flynn is reminiscent of Matt Helm, Mike Shayne and Travis McGee. There may be what you’d call “tropes” present but nothing seems like a flat-out copy and the author writes with an originality that keeps you engaged. At times, it may teeter on the edge of cliché but it never topples over and as a result you believe this story.
“Eddie wanted to live on her collarbones, and probably could have, without falling off.”
Raymond Chandler at times, Peter Gunn-like with the inclusion of the chanteuse and with a sprinkling of Sweet Smell of Success, Rabuzzi supplies some nice time-travel and Our Man in Vegas really takes you back.
Rabuzzi says his protagonist is half Joey Bishop and half James Bond and in a clever passage Flynn takes notice of a new extravagant casino being built and laments Vegas’ possible future:
“It was billed to be the largest gambling hall in town…If Vegas wasn’t careful, it would turn into a snarled knot of neon and sordid extravagance. Heaven forbid.”
The climax takes place in a great location high over the city and the brave finale includes an unexpected end for more than one character. Gary Rabuzzi spent years living in Las Vegas and he captures well the vibrance and the heat of the city. This is one of several books I’ve read this year that are self-published and/or published by small presses and Our Man in Vegas is certainly one of the cleanest. Do yourself a solid and pick up a copy at Amazon today. Click here to buy.