The acclaimed author of Beneath the Neon returns with more stories from the underbelly of Las Vegas. Matthew O'Brien once again abandons the glamour that tourists associate with Sin City to reveal a troubling yet compelling reality. As the title suggests, the writer really does spend seven days and nights at a filthy motel, yet that's just the beginning. O'Brien not only recreates the Hunter S. Thompson classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but he delves into topics ranging from the case of a missing Canadian girl to what and who lurks in the city's sewers. Despite the topics at hand, My Week at the Blue Angel is a fascinating read, even if it stands to tarnish your opinion of America's gambling capital.
Following the success of Beneath the Neon – an account of life in Las Vegas’ dangerous storm drains – author Matthew O’Brien certainly had his work cut out for him with his next title, My Week at the Blue Angel and Other Stories from the Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas. However, O’Brien’s latest book, which is a collection of creative non-fiction pieces, shouldn’t be treated as a direct follow-on to Beneath the Neon (indeed, the two stories, which serve as the foundation of the book first sprang to life before Beneath the Neon was published), but instead, a compendium of tales from the underground of Sin City.
Beginning with a hard-hitting and upsetting account of the disappearance of Jessica ‘Jessie’ Foster, it’s clear that O’Brien’s book isn’t for readers purely interested in outlandish hotels and happy-go-lucky tales of big wins at the craps tables. Indeed, Jessie’s father, Grant Foster, highlights the difficulty of searching for his missing daughter in a party-town like Las Vegas:
They come to Las Vegas to drink and gamble and have fun, and it kind of bothered me that they just assumed everybody else on the plane was there to have fun... I felt like standing up and saying, ‘Excuse me, but I’m not really here to have fun.
Perhaps O’Brien places the Foster’s harrowing story at the beginning of My Week at the Blue Angel to ward off casual readers merely interested in glitzy tales of mobsters and the like. However, readers who stick with O’Brien’s book are richly rewarded. In particular, ‘Hunting Hunter’, which sees O’Brien retracing of the journey undertaken by protagonists Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (recently named number one in our list of the top 50 gambling books) is a delightful, if somewhat delirious read. The account is formed of O’Brien’s various journeys to casinos like Circus Circus, with excerpts from an interview with Thompson, as well as quotes from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, present throughout the chapter. ‘Hunting Hunter’ is both anarchic and fast-paced, ending with O’Brien’s favourite section of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, “the end of Chapter Eight, which eulogizes the drug culture of the 1960s.” However, the account is also tinged with sadness, with O’Brien revealing in the Epilogue that he had planned to send a completed draft of Beneath the Neon to Thompson just days before the troubled author ended his life.
Undoubtedly, the centrepiece of My Week at the Blue Angel is the narrative of the same name. In a piece of investigative journalism, O’Brien moves into the Blue Angel motel and learns the various histories of the tenants located there. The account is startling, with O’Brien discussing the Blue Angel with a Vietnam veteran currently living at the Blue Angel, and Betty Willis, designer of the blue angel statue located outside of the motel, as well as the famous ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign.
Throughout My Week at the Blue Angel there are vibrant flashes of humour, eccentricity and kindness. However, O’Brien stays true to his source material and throughout the book, it’s clear he’s not afraid of presenting the real face of Las Vegas – even if it makes for an uncomfortable read. For those who remain intrigued by the journalist’s accounts of the storm drains of Las Vegas, you’ll be pleased to learn that My Week at the Blue Angel features the dual narratives of O’Brien and fellow explorer, Joshua Ellis, as they investigate the underground drains. Nevertheless, whereas Beneath the Neon focused on just one facet of the secret side of Las Vegas, My Week at the Blue Angel explores much more. For those looking to further understand the real nature of Las Vegas, O’Brien’s latest book is a must.