Las Vegas Bootleggers tells the story of Ryan Neroni, an attorney who suffers from halitosis and isn’t able to relate to most people. He wins a large settlement from the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. Realizing that he has enough money now to do whatever he wants, he quits his unsatisfying job at a high-profile law firm and tries to figure out his next steps. After meeting a woman at a Starbucks who is training to become a life coach, he hires her as his assistant. With her help he realizes that his true goal in life is to become a bootlegger. It’s at this point Las Vegas Bootleggers takes a wild left turn. Instead of smuggling alcohol, he ends up transporting a wide range of items including a gun that changes emotions, a pair of underwear, and a book.
The tone of the first part of the book reminds me of Douglas Copeland’s Generation X in the sense that you have a person in the desert trying to figure out what to do with their life. Ryan Neroni is a character who isn’t sure what direction to take; he’s the product of a privileged upbringing with all the material wealth that includes. Yet he has never developed emotionally to understand people. It’s like if there was a less narcissistic version of one of the Trump kids and they suddenly got a conscience.
The sci-fi, fantastical elements of Las Vegas Bootlegger are reminiscent of something Kurt Vonnegut might write. It’s got a foot in our world but it also stretches into the fantastical. Vonnegut always did enough to lead the reader along and say, “Well, this is pretty ridiculous, but it makes sense in the world he’s constructed.” With Las Vegas Bootlegger, so much of the book is set in our modern day, regular world. But when the sci-fi element is introduced, it’s far-fetched. Cicero has Ryan Neroni setting up his services on the dark web and is immediately finding customers for his services; the first being a rather high profile one. I didn’t really find this latter portion of the book believable, even in a Vonnegut-styled atmosphere.
Additionally, I feel like Cicero broke one of the cardinal rules of writing: show, don’t tell. All too often characters are sharing their beliefs and feelings in long narrative passages that are either unnecessary or overly long. I figured out early on that Neroni was a fairly miserable person through interactions he had with others. I understood the dynamic he had with his parents and co-workers. Having characters approach Neroni and belittling him in multi-paragraph diatribes was unnecessary.
At the same time, I was glued to the book. I finished it in a few hours. Cicero has writing skills in spades—which keeps the reader engaged—but what started as a strong idea falls apart the more surreal and ridiculous it gets. –Kurt Morris (Trident Press, tridentcafe.com/trident-press)