Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review

Las Vegas (Sin City) Is a Great Setting for Murder Mysteries


Anything can happen in Las Vegas and often does. The Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas has been one of my favorites for years. Just this week I discovered another mystery series set on the Las Vegas Strip - The Lucky O'Toole mysteries by Deborah Coonts.

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay


Why Las Vegas? Where else does one find such a diversity of characters in one place? Where are there so many themed hotels for the rich and famous within only four miles of each other? Where else is there so much temptation for people to act on their baser impulses? Greed abounds in the casinos, criminals come to look for easy victims, and thousands flock to the hotels every day to attend large conventions for organizations catering to groups ranging from booksellers and beekeepers to Elvis impersonators and swingers. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip attract all types.

Such throngs of people from so many backgrounds with such diverse motivations and objectives can lead to all kinds of problems. That's why the hotels and casinos need their public relations experts to keep the lid on anything that can produce bad publicity or legal problems. The PR people do everything from soothing the ruffled feathers of celebrities to dealing with naked men asleep in the stairwells. Occasionally they discover dead bodies as they go about their work.

Meet Temple Barr and Midnight Louie


Temple Barr, the protagonist of the Midnight Louie Series, and Lucky O'Toole, who stars in her own series, are almost complete opposites in looks and personality. Although each is a public relations expert working on the Las Vegas Strip, in most other ways they are completely different.

Temple is a short redhead and loves her spike heels. She is a public relations freelancer for hotels on the Strip. She lives in a condo at the Circle Ritz with Midnight Louie -- a large black tomcat who moved in with her. He comes and goes as he pleases through her bathroom window, and when Temple starts discovering bodies as she goes about her public relations work, Louie helps her finds the murderers. Carmen Molina, head of homicide for the Las Vegas Police, does not appreciate their help and seems to consider Temple a suspect much of the time. Yet there's also a soft side to Carmen as she seeks to raise her tween daughter.

As the series begins, Temple has two men in her life -- the Mysterious Max, a magician who is her current love interest and lives with her when he's around, and Matt Devine, a neighbor at the Circle Ritz, an ex-Catholic priest. They share a zany landlady who adds humor to the series. As the first book in the series, Cat in an Alphabet Soup opens, Max is missing. Throughout the series he appears and disappears. This allows Matt to begin to step into his place. Temple has a bit of trouble deciding which one to choose.

Temple and Midnight Louie obviously have a relationship that is mutually satisfying. On more than one occasion he saves her skin. He often gets his feline family to help him investigate. He also tells many parts of the stories, alternating with the narrator. He is all tomcat! He considers Temple his roommate -- not his owner. Cat lovers will especially love Midnight Louie. Learn more about this series in Why I Love the Midnight Louie Series.

Lucky O'Toole


Although I've read all the Midnight Louie books but the last five, I have just begin to read the Lucky O'Toole series, which is written in the first person. I started with Lucky Double: A Two-Book Lucky Bundle which includes the first two books in the Las Vegas Adventure Series: Wanna Get Lucky? and Lucky Stiff. As I write this, you can get this 718-page duo as a free download to introduce you to the series. The link below should reflect any change in this price. I have now finished four books in the series (two novellas were offered free as a download at the end of Lucky Stiff.)




Whereas Temple was easy to like and seemed somewhat vulnerable from the start, Lucky comes across as continually harried, brittle, and somewhat snarky. She seems to hold herself together with alcohol and caffeine. Although she has office help in the form of the already trained and efficient Miss Patterson and the newly hired young Brandy Alexander, she is constantly on the run, dealing with one crisis after another.

Whereas Temple is short and hardly ever goes anywhere without her spike heels, Lucky is six feet tall  and can barely walk in hers. She is not afraid to use her height to intimidate people who are causing problems and she can be one tough cookie!

Lucky reigns over the public relations department of the Babylon, a mega casino resort. She lives nearby in a multi story premier residence called the Presidio. Her friend Teddie, a female impersonator and musician, lives in the penthouse above her. He's in love with Lucky, but she doesn't seem to know it, is afraid to have a serious relationship, and doesn't want a casual one. Her roommate is a foul-mouthed macaw who constantly cusses at her. Lucky's language is not pristine either.

Lucky's mother Mona is the madam of an upper scale house of ill repute in the town of Pahrump, sixty miles down the road. Lucky is not sure who her father is. Mona gives the girls who come to her a safe place to ply their trade and helps those who want to leave prepare for different jobs in the world outside. She believes she is running a halfway house for ladies of the night.  Temple, on the other hand comes from a traditional family.

Although  both women live life at a frantic pace, Temple spends more time away from work than Lucky and has deeper relationships. In comparison, Lucky's relationships (except with Teddie) seem more superficial. It's fairly easy to get to know Temple, but Lucky keeps a lot inside. She is hard to get to know.

It seems Deborah Coonts is more interested in creating an exciting plot than in developing complex characters. I care more about Temple, Max, and Matt than I do about Lucky, Teddie, and the other characters in the Lucky series. It's possible I will care more as the series develops if each book continues to build on the ones before it.

The individual books in the Midnight Louie Series work together to build one grand plot that will not be resolved until the end. Yet each book can also stand alone even as it leaves you wondering at the end about what's next in the romantic triangle.

Although there are quirky characters in both books, the minor characters in the Lucky series seem more bizarre to me. Those who hold traditional moral values will be more comfortable with the Midnight Louie books than the Lucky series, although there are diverse sexual orientations and unmarried sexual partners in both. Lucky gets disgusted with some of these people when they create problems she has to solve,  but she seems to accept their lifestyles and antics with an "it takes all types" attitude. When she finds a naked man sleeping in a stairwell because he's had too much to drink, or half a couple in the wrong room, it just adds to another day's workload to get people back where they belong.

Two Mystery Series Set on the Las Vegas Strip: A Review
Photo is from Pixabay with my Edits

Plots and Settings


Though both of the series are set primarily on the Las Vegas Strip, Temple Barr gets away from the Strip more often than Lucky, who is fortunate if she can get away from the Babylon to eat, sleep, and get Mona out of  jams. Much of the action in the Midnight Louie series takes place at the Circle Ritz as Temple relates to the two men in her life and their eccentric landlady. The cats roam, too, as they attempt to keep Temple safe and help her solve murders. I enjoyed the many changes of setting Douglas utilizes -- some even outside the United States. The European settings shed light on Max's mysterious past fighting the IRA.

The Midnight Louie characters (with the exception of the villains) have a warmth that I don't see much in the Lucky series. The relationships are deeper and the conversations more personal. Temple's concern for people is more than casual. She really cares about the people she encounters -- even her antagonist Lieutenant Molina.

Lucky, on the other hand, has many acquaintances and colleagues, but very few real friends. Almost any attractive man sets her hormones raging but she doesn't follow through with one-night stands, at least not as far as I've read. Whereas Temple comes across as nurturing and friendly, Lucky seems edgy and defensive. After all, she was raised in a whore house until she was in her early teens, and that's hardly a supportive and wholesome environment.

Sex is also treated differently in the two series. In the Midnight Louie books, we know it happens, but we don't have many details. We don't see sex used for its own sake or for shock value.  It's always in the context of a committed relationship and only when it is integral to the plot.

Deborah Coonts, on the other hand, almost uses sex as a filler, and as many different kinds as she can work into the plot. The accounts of Lucky's amorous activities give readers just enough detail to stimulate their imaginations and then the readers' imaginations take it from there. There few details on the activity of the swingers and gay couples except to let you know it's happening. In the Lucky books it's hard to go six pages without reading about lustful thoughts, compromising situations, or sexual encounters. It seems almost everyone is obsessed with sex, jealousy, or revenge.

All the main characters in the Midnight Louie series have a life apart from work -- even Carmen the homicide detective. They are multifaceted. Although the murder mysteries capture reader interest, the plots are character driven. Readers will care as much about what happens to the characters as they do about how the mystery is solved.

The Lucky O'Toole mysteries are more plots decorated with the characters who are the tools for solving them. By the third and fourth books I was starting to see more of Lucky's personality and heart, but even then I didn't know her as well as I did Temple after the first book. Here are the beginnings of the plots in the books I've read in this series, to give you an idea.

Wanna Get Lucky opens with a woman falling from a helicopter into the lagoon in front of one of the hotels. In Lucky Stiff a tractor trailer full of honeybees overturns right in front of the Babylon. Not long after that someone feeds a young woman to the tiger shark in a tank at another resort. In Lucky in Love Lucky has to oversee four couples who are competing in a reality show to win a wedding extravaganza. For several days she has to keep them from killing each other until the final filming night when the winner is chosen. Lucky barely escapes being killed herself in Lucky Bang when she discovers a bomb in the restroom of a friend's restaurant.

My Recommendation


You may want to read Midnight Louie books if

  • You prefer complex characters to shallow ones
  • You want to follow the main characters through an entire series
  • What happens to the main characters is just as important to you as how the mystery is solved.
  • You enjoy complex plots with lots of action
  • You like to see books in a series build on each other.
  • You like to see a variety of settings in a book and in a series
  • You prefer to avoid offensive language and gory murder scenes
  • You like cats
  • You want some warm humor mixed with the mystery 
  • You have traditional moral values but don't expect all characters who share them to always live up to them
  • You want to read about characters you'd invite home for a family dinner



Lucky O'Toole books may appeal to you if
  • A fast action plot pace is more important than complex characters
  • You like to follow the same main characters through an entire series 
  • You like to see books in a series build on each other.
  • You like quirky characters
  • You're okay with lots of four-letter words and snarky comments
  • You like to see characters with a lot of sex appeal and who think about sex a lot, even though the sex scenes leave a lot to the imagination
  • You prefer not to see a lot of blood and gore in your mysteries
  • You are comfortable with cynical or sarcastic humor
  • You are comfortable with characters whose lifestyles are far from the norm such as swingers and those who like threesomes 

I prefer the Midnight Louie books because I love getting to know both the feline and human characters. Although the Lucky O'Toole books kept me entertained, the language and attitudes of many of the characters distracted and annoyed me. 

What do you like best about your favorite mystery writers? Are there particular kinds of characters that attract or repel you?  



Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article.

9 comments:

  1. Wow Barbara, you've given me a whole whack load of books that I should and will be reading again. My list goes up and down like a yo-yo! It's now up again with the addition of these books. I love murder mysteries and while I haven't yet made the trip to Vegas, I can live vicariously through these books I'm sure. Thanks!

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    1. I'll be interested in your opinion after you've sampled from these series. Got behind with Midnight Louie during a period I was waiting for the newest book to come out. I got distracted with other work and never followed up. Now the series has been reissued with new covers and new titles for the first two books. Midnight Louie remains the same cat-on-the-town he always was. I think Douglas is probably glad to have finished the series, because the quality of the books started to deteriorate a bit toward the end. A dirty little secret is that although the books do build on each other, Louie usually summarizes all that's gone before at the beginning of a new book as the plot grows more complicated. This is useful since one needs a refresher after waiting months for a new book to be published.

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  2. Another set of mysteries to read. Wow. Thanks for introducing me to these two series, Barbara. You know I'm a mystery book fan.

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    1. I suppose Midnight Louie is my favorite series so far. Temple does get into some dangerous situations. There's plenty of suspense, but little blood. The relationships between the various cats add a light touch and break the tension. The various cat characters are as well developed as the human characters. They make Braun's KoKo and YumYum look anemic in comparison.

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  3. While I am always tempted by a free book, Lucky does seem a little to rough & rowdy for me. However, Midnight Louie definitely appeals. Thanks for the great recommendations and the comparisons. It certainly helped me make my choices.

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    1. Free always tempts me, as well, but too often I get what I pay for. I read a couple of reviews for the Midnight Louie ebooks, and there were some complaints about the editing on those. I read the hard copies I found in my library and my review was based on those.

      Quite often I discover a new author I like after sampling a free ebook. But when I go back to reading hard copies of books I've collected over the years it's easy to see the contrast in quality between those and many of the self-published ebooks.

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  4. Barb, both of these series sound interesting to me - depending on my mood and level of sleep deprivation. I think the fast paced Lucky series might keep me awake/keep my attention when sometimes more complex characters tend to lose me. Thank you for the introduction to these authors.

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  5. Wow, you've really introduced these, great review. I'm going to save them for my mom, these story lines are right up mom's alley. Always appreciate book reviews, it makes shopping for books as gifts so much easier.

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