Backstage Las Vegas provides an appropriately raffish setting for a stylish, twisty first novel, this one featuring a full complement of lovable losers and blackguardly villains. While plying his trade as a shill at Bob's Beer & Guns, a down-market establishment far from the gaming mecca's glitzy Strip, Terry Lasky, a former federal prosecutor and Vietnam vet who prefers the undemanding demimonde to rat-race respectability, learns that an armored car carrying three million dollars skimmed from casino receipts on behalf of the Chicago mob has been hijacked. Although indifferent to the fate of the Cosa Nostra's ill-gotten gains, he's soon obliged to bear a hand in its recovery. The sole surviving bandit storms into Bob's in search of legal aid and whispers something to Lasky, then is gunned down by staked-out police and Louis Stalisi--a sleek but slow-witted yuppie envoy from the Windy City's underworld. With both the cops and the robbers convinced that Lasky knows where the loot is stashed, he sets about making the best deal possible in the circumstances. As he scuttles about Las Vegas, the marked man must treat with shifty characters like a local detective, known as Grinder, whose loyalties are decidedly variable. Lasky's lady (a Camus-reading hooker from Malaysia who answers to the name of Snapper) and ex-wife (an unreconstructed radical left over from the '60s) also display a keen interest in the whereabouts of the Mafia money, as do a defrocked Yale economist, a Pentecostal pastor, the wheelchair- bound proprietor of Bob's, and BB&G's once-homeless bouncer. But by the time Lasky arranges for the plunder's return at a midnight rendezvous deep in the desert, his best-laid schemes go spectacularly--and satisfyingly--awry. An impressive debut, one reminiscent of the work of Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake for the way it effectively combines antic action with sardonic commentary.