Set in 1950s Las Vegas, Rayner uses the unsettling realities beneath Vegas's glossy surfaces as symbols of a deeper and more sinister social corruption.
"I'd paid a lawyer $175 to complete the paperwork and the deal was done ... It
was Maurizio Viglioni whose father was a failed Philadelphia engineer, Maurizio
Viglioni whose mother had run away with a stockbroker ... I'd discarded it like
an unwanted suit. When I married the senator's daughter, it was as Maurice
Maurice Valentine is being groomed by important people for big things. He's a noted Los Angeles architect whose commissions take him from the developing Las Vegas strip to the top-secret atomic-test sites in the surrounding desert, jobs that have him mixing with gangsters, politicians, Brat-Pack hangers-on, and other powerful players. Poised to achieve even greater professional heights, Valentine appears unstoppable.
Then Mallory Walker enters his life, presenting herself as an heiress with a keen eye for architecture. Valentine, normally a cool hand at the casual affair, falls head over heels and whisks the mysterious beauty off to Las Vegas for some time alone. At a swank penthouse party where the high rollers gather -- Lana Turner's there, and Frank Sinatra -- Valentine introduces Mallory to the powerful Paul Mantilini, the mobster who's made Valentine's career. It's then that Valentine gets the first inkling that something's amiss, that Mallory might have an agenda at odds with his own.
At last the moment they've been waiting for has arrived, the evening's spectacle. A piercing flash of light is followed by a bubble of boiling red rising from the horizon: forty-five miles across the Nevada desert, the Atomic Energy Committee has detonated another of its 4,600 A-bombs. The crowd cowers, stumbles, readjusts, reaches for their drinks, hoping to hide the terror for a moment longer behind their martini glasses and champagne flutes. Valentine's life will never be the same -- not because of that explosion, but for what comes immediately after. From the corner of his eye, he sees Mallory walking toward him, but doesn't see the nickel-plated pistol until it's too late. Confused, he calls out to her. She raises the gun, points it, and fires.
How could Valentine have found himself so far removed from the carefully constructed, tidy life he'd been building all these years? The discovery of Mallory's true motive, and of her relationship with Mantilini and the elite of both Las Vegas and Palm Springs, will send Valentine down a path of twisted schemes, murder, and lies within lies -- and will force him to make a fateful decision that will save one life and end another.
September , 1956 / Los Feliz, California
I first met Mallory Walker high in the hills above Silverlake,
at one of those parties where Luis Barragan announced his continued existence to
the world. It was during the Labor Day weekend, and Luis, such a figure, almost
a legend in architecture, was pretty much at his wit's end, in danger of sliding
off the map. He was in his late fifties by then, maybe sixty, and it was years
since he'd designed a building. He still lived large, considering he was a man
for whom so much had gone wrong. But, then, in life, as in architecture, Luis
had a reckless disregard for convention and the niceties. And luck never quite
"Good of you to show your face," he said, reeking of gin and sweat and about half a gallon of lemony eau de cologne. He was rumpled, with hair flowing like milk out of his ears and from the open neck of his blue silk shirt. "Come in here," he said, dragging me into the kitchen, where it was ...
The first person of European descent to discover the location that is now Las
Vegas was a young Spanish scout named Rafael Rivera in the early
1700s. Spanish traders en route from Santa Fe to Pueblo de Los Angelos, traveling along the Spanish
Trail, sought a route through the valley in the hope of cutting a few days
off the journey, then known as the 'jornada de muerte' (journey of death).
When Rivera found a plentiful water supply, they renamed the valley 'Las Vegas'
(The Meadows). Find out more at the Las
Vegas City website.
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