What Happens in Vegas, Dies in Vegas

by Mark Everett Stone

Reviewed by Michael Potts

Some books are like a gourmet meal, in which each serving of food adds to the experience of good tastes. Other books are like tossed salads—tear off a few pieces of head lettuce, slice up a tomato and a cucumber, throw it together, and add ranch dressing. The result is not a culinary masterpiece, but somehow it tastes good. Mark Everett Stone’s What Happens in Vegas, Dies in Vegas is a tossed salad. Literary fiction it is not. The plot has a loose unity, the characters developed but not in depth—you will not be pondering the meaning of the book as you would a Hemingway novel. Stone’s novel is pure entertainment. Mix in elements of comic books, action films, film noir, a ghost who is also a hacker, scary monsters, time travel into the past to meet….Nazis (“I hate these guys!”), a plethora of action and gore, and references ranging from Star Trek to Tolkien to Finnish mythology, and you get a sense of what it is like to read this book.
The basic plot is set in what can best be called an alternative earth in the present. “Supernaturals,” who are generally evil and destructive, often invade the earth from their realm, and The Bureau of Supernatural Investigation has been established to fight and to kill the hostile supernaturals that range from ghouls to harpies to vampires to evil gods of mythology. Kal Halaka, a former agent of the Bureau, desires to hunt down and kill Iku-Turso, a demonic sea god from the great work of Finnish mythology, The Kalevala, which had earlier brutally murdered his sister. He is helped in his quest by his Apache sidekick, Canton Alsate, who is not a Tonto-like subservient companion. Rather, he is an equal to Kal who has saved Kal’s life on many occasions. His other companions include two women: “Mouth,” who excels in hand-to-hand combat and Winch, who shares Kal’s thirst for battle. “Ghost” is one of the most interesting characters in the novel, a cross between a traditional ghost and an artificial intelligence who hacks into electronic systems. The initial goal of the group is to find a unique artifact that can kill Iku-Turso.
Kal and his companions are sidetracked into a wild adventure in which they are thrown back into the past into the World War II era. A two-way time portal means that Nazis can roam freely between the past and the future—not a good thing for the allies. This world, however, is filled with magic, and the Allies have their good magicians who try to counteract the evil magicians and necromancers of the Nazis. To go into detail into what they find would involve too many spoilers—suffice to say that the reader will be surprised more than once at the plot twists and the characters Kal and his team meet. The book picks up pace as it moves toward the climax, with multiple fight scenes with enough gore (this book is not for young children or for the squeamish) to satisfy a fan of slasher movies. The reading experience was an entertaining, roller-coaster-like ride. One of the chief strengths of the book is the quirky, dark humor throughout—the dialogue is sharp and the comic timing is excellent.
What Happens in Vegas is the second book in a series, and the comments/criticisms below should be read in that light. Once I was into the book I was hooked. However, the rapid pace at which the rules of the world are introduced, almost ad hoc, in the first forty pages or so threw me out of the plot several times. This was when the comic book style became too noticeable, as in the 1960s television version of Batman, in which Batman found the right weapon ad hoc at just the right time (“There’s just this one chance—the Bat Shark Repellant”). The introduction of the rules of magic in the world should be less abrupt. The abrupt introduction of the rules of the world also interferes with the suspension of disbelief. Eventually, as the pace of the action picked up, it was easier to ignore this reality and move into the reality of the book. However, this may not be a problem for fans of the paranormal suspense thriller genre.
In the end, Stone’s book is a fun read, and I laughed quite a bit at the dark humor. I recommend the book for fans of paranormal thrillers and for fans of fast action suspense in general.