Written by Chris Ewan — Charlie Howard has no qualms about being a thief. As the Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas opens we are led through a tutorial on how to pick a pocket. Our narrator is at a high stakes table in the Fifty Five Casino on the strip. Charlie is with his friend and literary agent, Victoria. The wallet he is stealing isn’t a random wallet, but that of a the good looking Josh Masters, the resident on-stage magician at the Fifty Five. Masters is Victoria’s friend, and a heavy flirt, who continuously calls Charlie ‘Chaz’ even after being corrected. Clearly, he’s full of himself.
But Charlie turns out to be the better trickster, especially when it comes to slight of hand, and effortlessly walks off with Masters’ wallet. Charlie makes his way to Masters’ suite and finds that the magician might be something more than charming, in what is the third book in Chris Ewan’s Good Thief series, which mixes travel and the liberation of other people’s property. It was originally published in 2010 but the author has regained the rights to the books and put them out digitally under his own steam.
Up in Masters’ suite Charlie’s intention is to steal some money but he finds a lot more than he bargained for. After an inkling arises, he pushes into the bathroom. Ewan has fun here, as he does throughout, and leaves us hanging for a chapter as he punctuates the plot with some backstory on how our thief got into the situation in the first place. As he does so, the author cleverly uses a metafiction thread to play in with the narrative. Charlie is not only a thief he is also a crime writer. At the hand of another author this might come off as trite or heavy handed, but Ewan is able to give us just enough commentary on what the mystery novel does, playing in parallels between his life and the books he writes, for it all to be delightful.
When we return to the bathroom we are shown the body of a woman lying face down in the tub. Before Charlie is able to key Victoria into what is going on up there, the two of them end up in the front row of Masters’ magic show. Victoria has agreed to be Masters’ assistant for the night, quite possibly in place of the dead woman upstairs. But halfway through the old saw-the-beautiful-lady-in-half routine, Masters pulls the biggest trick of all – he disappears right off the stage.
Charlie attempts to save Victoria, who is caught in the trick. Two hilarious and identical hotel detectives suspect Charlie and Victoria as accomplices of Masters, who is found to have ripped off the Casino for a large sum. Unless Charlie and Victoria can recover Masters or the money they will be on the hook for the crime.
The author has fun with the caper genre, as you’d expect, tagging good shaggy dog episodes together to string the plot along. Some are more enjoyable than others. The prose and dialogue is mostly tight, though at times it can come off as a bit trite. Occasionally, the authorial voice reads as precious, and the self-deprecating shtick can wear thin.
There are four more books in this series and overall the Vegas edition is a fun, smart, and sardonic tour through the city with a charming and believable guide. It’s a great whodunit caper that adds something to a crowded genre by subverting it. Ewan’s series is a worthy heir apparent to Lawrence Block’s Burglar series. The Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas is a great place to start, or feel free to go back and read them in order starting with Amsterdam. You won’t be sorry.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars