Void Moon – Michael Connelly
There are as many ways to rob a casino as there are ways to skin a cat, and in this book, one of many by Michael Connelly, we witness a novel way of doing the dirty: stealing off the customers who have just won big, in the dead f night, fro their hotel rooms.
However, the main thrust of the plot isn’t the heist itself, as that would be too simple. What grips the reader in Void Moon is the development of the lead female character, a former card dealer in Vegas who had a troubled childhood in sin city and lost her partner in crime in a botched heist. She now has a mystery daughter who she is trying to get back in touch with. As is to be expected, she wants to do one last job before disappearing into an innocent and pleasant life of ‘happily-ever-after’ but it won’t quite go to plan.
Cassie Black is a ballsy criminal, far from the grim police investigators that Connelly usually portrays. She’s quick and ruthless, but develops into a three-dimensional and likeable personality who the reader can’t help but sympathise with as a true heroine with a tragic flaw, and here her flaw is the dream of being happy and free.
Admittedly, the title of the book makes no reference to gambling or Las Vegas, and indeed the main bilk of the story could happen anywhere in the world, as it’s not the casinos themselves that matter here but the ambitions of the main characters. The Void Moon is the period of time, lasting for anything from a few minutes to several hours, during which the moon doesn’t appear to be explicitly in any of the 12 neatly-defined segments that make up the Astrological circle of the Zodiac. It has superstitious connotations, and is a mystery that enthrals astrologers and believers alike. Cassie isn’t immune to these beliefs, and parts of the story link explicitly to this phenomenon, implying that the period of the Void Moon is a dark moment during which bad things can happen and, sure enough, they do.
The book’s antagonist is the perfect accompaniment to Cassie’s protagonist. Jack Karch is a shady police investigator who doesn’t seem any more law-abiding than Cassie, but unlike her he has the law and his badge on his side. The dynamics between the two provide a tense and thrilling backdrop to the main narrative, as Karch gets muddled up in Cassie’s plans to retrieve her daughter and start a new life with her and the bags of money from the last big job.
One of the many sub-plots is the intention of the mobsters pulling the strings behind the criminals to buy the Cleopatra, the casino where much of the opening action takes place. The outcome of this is revealed at the end, and frames the narrative nicely, providing the wider picture to this very personal story of a criminal trying to reform but inevitably falling back into the same old habits that got her where she is.