OK, I've plunged back into crime fiction, but I seem to have started at the shallow end of the pool: Murder in Vegas, a 2005 anthology of short stories edited by Michael Connelly. I found it at the library a few days ago and I was in a hurry.
I like short stories, even though it's rare to find a really good one. The yarns here -- set, as you might imagine, in Las Vegas -- are entertaining enough but only one ("The Sunshine Tax") is close to memorable. The rest all seem a bit derivative and predictable and lean heavily on violence to resolve plot complications -- which is the sort of thing I'm perfectly capable of writing myself. I read short stories for fun, but also to gain insights about the craft, and these didn't yield many.
They didn't yield many new angles on Vegas, either. We were there in December. While the city remains a glittering petri dish of vice and weakness, it has a pathetic air about it now. You walk the sleazy Strip and don't think much about heists and high rollers and hit men. You occasionally think about noirish lascivious ladies, but only because of those stupid pamphlets always being thrust at you. These stories are all set in the present, but they seem to reference a time when Sinatra and the Rat Pack were boozing it up on stage -- a time when Las Vegas was, in fact, unique and maybe a little dangerous. I guess that's why none of them seem particularly relevant.
This isn't a review, of course -- what kind of an idiot reviews a four-year-old anthology? Mostly it's just another reflection on what makes a decent short story. And it's a challenge to myself. I've long thought about doing a yarn set in Vegas; now I'm going to try to write one. Talk is cheap; let's see if I can do better.