Vegas Knockout has the patience of confident noir. Through what at first seem loosely related short stories, a clear, almost invisible filament tightly cinches up the narrative, story by story. The main character of the book isn’t a person, but a city. It’s not the Las Vegas of instantly repeatable catchphrases. It’s not the Las Vegas that attempted to be family friendly. It’s the Las Vegas circumscribed by a local, downtown, non-Strip regular, an author who’s built a reliable bar empire on the surface of what seems like bad ideas: free beers to patrons with multiple missing teeth, bacon-infused spirits.
Moss uses the veined and broken-neon topographical darkness of Vegas as the carbon-silted foil to shape his novel. Shady cunning is balanced with bouts of camp-filled underground sideshows. Darkness and light. Contrast and a steady hand. The novel is enveloped in that almost group hallucination, that aerosol mist of desperate living that fogs everything from Las Vegas’s largest gambling empires to its small-timer hustlers and hangers-on. Moss summarizes: “Took the sure thing instead of taking a chance on the real thing… it was like taking insurance on a hand of blackjack. All you got was even money, yet you counted it as a win. Who wants to live their life taking even money?”
Structurally, Vegas Knockout follows the narrative timeline up to and through the conclusion of a heavyweight title fight. Caught in the net of intrigue, bad luck, and soiled-and-laugh-tracked redemption is a reporter for a music magazine, people devoted to a world of yesteryear Vegas nostalgia, a petty thief with self-esteem issues, a vetted greasy spoon bookie, and, well, an animal fucking father and son duo. The result is a curious duality. It’s a book that sounds like gimmicks and hyperboles when it’s summarized, but is a genuine article when read page by page. In many ways, Vegas Knockout is an honest reaction to a town that I’m familiar with in essence; a living, breathing Vegas I lived with and in for over a decade. No small feat. Recommended. –Todd Taylor (Citylife Books, lvcitylifebooks.com)