Underneath Las Vegas, human beings live in dark catacombs—a practice not uncommon in large cities.
Las Vegas-based journalist O'Brien offers an engaging if slapdash account of exploring the city's storm drains and meeting the people living in them. In 2002, O'Brien and fellow writer Josh Ellis went wandering through the drains and emerged with stories. O'Brien's book (with moody, too-sparsely-used photos by Danny Mollohan) uses that adventure as a starting point for his return during a 2004 sabbatical from his day job, editing the local alt-weekly. Armed with a tape recorder and a couple failing flashlights, O'Brien covers the underground, chatting up the dozens of folks he comes across. They're a mostly welcoming crowd—many Vietnam vets, most with gambling and drug problems, all with a story to tell. Less friendly are the crack-addled street kids who advise O'Brien to stay clear. There are wonders to be found in the gloom, including a woman who came all the way to Vegas just to bring gifts to her tunnel-dweller son and make sure he's okay, and a graffiti art gallery that surpasses anything in the glittering city above. There's also danger: During heavy rains, the area can fill with floodwater at the rate of a foot per minute.
O'Brien brings an explorer's passion to his lively work, which suffers, nevertheless, from a certain thinness of research.