Like the other winners of the Private Eye Writers of America contest for best first novel, this is a mediocre affair, here featuring California shamus Kat Colorado on the trail of chum Charity's ex, Sam--who claims that the 200 grand he owed her he lost in Vegas. On-site investigation, however, reveals Sam's connection with New Capital Ventures, a shady development corporation that subverted zoning laws; intimidated planning-board members; laundered money for casino bosses and--after Kat confronted Sam with these facts and he tried to disengage himself and his money from their clutches--caused Sam's ""accidental"" fatal fall from a project under construction. With research provided by Vegas investigative reporter Joe, food and comfort from his wife Betty, and stirrings of love from Hank the hunk, a Vegas cop, Kat wanders in and out of danger--including that caused by her old school buddy Deck, now a mob enforcer, and by the sadistic brains behind N.C.V., who finally dies at the hands of the two women he traumatized. Silly chapter headings (supposedly letters from Charity's advice column) and heavy-handedness throughout, with the sort of schmaltz usually associated with romance novels. A strenuously earnest, hard-to-like debut.