The best Las Vegas-based crime novels featuring cons

Who am I?

I love the psychology behind a good con. Con artists are the ultimate anti-heroes - masterful manipulators and highly observant, but unscrupulous at heart. And after reading a GQ article on “real-life superheroes” – people who dress up in homemade costumes and patrol their neighborhoods – I became fascinated by that psychology, too. Las Vegas is the capital of con and Cons—a unique city bursting with swindlers and cosplayers decked out in full regalia. What better place to set a crime novel? And thus—voilaCon Me Once was born.

I wrote...

Con Me Once

By J.L. Delozier,

Book cover of Con Me Once

What is my book about?

When Frank Lambda, a bumbling superhero wannabe, witnesses a mob hit gone wrong, he ends up running for his life. 

Enter the mysterious Keira, whose secret academy claims to turn wannabes like Frank into real heroes. Frank knows a con when he sees one. But desperate for an escape, he joins three other recruits for training in Las Vegas. Against the backdrop of a thousand spandex-clad cosplayers Keira’s true agenda—a multimillion-dollar heist from her mobster brother—is exposed. With their lives and a fortune at stake, Frank and his team of misfits fight to become the heroes they always wanted to be.

The books I picked & why

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Ocean's 11

By George Clayton Johnson, Jack Golden Russell,

Book cover of Ocean's 11

Why this book?

This 1960 book by George Clayton Johnson, who wrote the scripts for The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and the sci-fi film Logan’s Run, was a tie-in for the original Ocean’s Eleven movie featuring the Rat Pack. It’s hard to find, but worth it as it contains all the elements of a classic Vegas con – the mob, the girlfriend, the complex relationships between the conmen and their marks. It delves into the characters more than either movie, although admittedly, it’s impossible to read the book without picturing the 2001 film and its star-studded cast. 

Take Down

By James Swain,

Book cover of Take Down

Why this book?

The tagline says it all – “Whoever says crime doesn’t pay isn’t doing it right.” Pubbed in 2015, this book is often compared to Ocean’s Eleven as it contains the same main elements: the con artist and his experienced crew, the girl, Vegas. What’s opposite is the focus – this book emphasizes plot over character. While I love this book’s complex con-within-a-con, Billy Cunningham is not particularly likable as a main character. If you enjoy Vegas’s dark side, this book and its two sequels, Bad Action and Super Con, are for you. 

The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas: A Mystery

By Chris Ewan,

Book cover of The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas: A Mystery

Why this book?

If you’re burned out from all that darkness, this book takes a more lighthearted approach to the classic Vegas con novel and features another mainstay of Las Vegas entertainment – the magician. It’s not haute literature—it got mixed reviews– but it’s also a fast, fun read with a great audio version, if you prefer. It’s part of a globetrotting series with stops in Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, and Berlin, featuring thief/magician/crime novelist Charlie Howard and his literary agent, Victoria.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

By Hunter S. Thompson,

Book cover of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Why this book?

I hesitated to recommend this one because the book is gonzo, but one can’t discuss Vegas-based novels without at least mentioning it. It’s a classic, drug-soaked trip through the city – gross, appalling, yet altogether original. While not typically thought of as a crime or con novel, I’d argue it’s both - the main characters, a journalist on assignment and his attorney friend, do nothing but con their way through a drug-fueled haze, destroying cars and hotel rooms while somehow not managing to get arrested or kill themselves. I hated it, but I held my nose and read it anyway because it’s become a classic piece of American literature. I’ll let you decide if you think it should be on a “best of” list. 

The Stand

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Stand

Why this book?

Another outside-the-box pick, but hear me out: this epic novel is all about the human representations of good versus evil conning their respective followers into an epic showdown in New Vegas after a devastating plague. At over 1,000 pages long, my summary is definitely the cliff-notes version, but it works. There’s a reason King’s Randall Flagg chose Vegas as his new base of operations. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right?

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