The Cosa Nostra. A long-hidden terrorist sect. Pirates. Bloated casino moguls. Archaeologists. Bob Sapp. They all make appearances in Jon Land's "The Seven Sins: The Tyrant Ascending," the latest guilty-pleasure hodgepodge to crowd up the shelves at Borders.
- From the Archives
- The man who would be king (8/28/08)
Land has never been an author to treasure subtlety, and his tendency to steamroller a barrage of disparate elements toward a common goal continues unabated here, although to a much more entertaining level than usual. The book's title refers to the Seven Sins, a Las Vegas casino owned by Michael Tiranno, around whom the plot revolves.
Tiranno, Italian for “tyrant,” is a mix of Michael Corleone, James Bond and mercenary, with a bit of Deepak Chopra thrown in for flavor. (He's also modeled on real-life businessman Fabrizio Boccardi; see feature The man who would be king.) When he's not blackmailing elected officials, dispensing frontier justice on terrorists or bedding showgirls, he's living his life by a code: “To Dream, To Dare, To Win,” the saying on a medallion around his neck that has mysterious origins of its own …
"Sins'" story is set in motion following a Las Vegas terrorist attack that threatens the future of Tiranno's property. As he investigates those responsible, he finds that the truth lies in his past—the murder of his family, his upbringing by the most powerful crime boss in Sicily, his fight to legitimize the family's finances and his eventual bid to strike out on his own in Las Vegas. He's assisted by Alexander, a Greek-born badass who's Tiranno's bodyguard and agent of destruction, and Naomi Burns, his attorney and confidante, who finds covering for her boss' dark past a full-time job.
Ancillary characters include Raven Khan, a fortune hunter who finds herself indirectly involved in a terrorist plot; Don Luciano, the crime boss who takes Tiranno under his wing; and Amir Pharaon, a billionaire who helped Tiranno amass his wealth.
Another character worth noting is the Seven Sins itself, which Land takes great care in describing in warm, loving, expository detail. Its layout, including seven different segments for each of the various sins, money dispensed to passersby at random and an underground shark tank, is absurd to the greatest degree—but then again, doesn't that accurately describe most of the Strip?
Lest the plot become boring, Land has made sure to populate "Sins" with other elements—corrupt journalists, quadriplegics, exhumations and hulking, disfigured assassins, to name a few. The resolution of all this comes together far more cohesively than you'd think, and Land is careful to leave enough questions unanswered for another installment.
Initially, there's a pungent self-awareness while digging into Land's prose that you'll hate yourself in the morning for reading it, but that's quickly replaced with morbid curiosity and, eventually, page-turning furiousness. Land may never aspire to John le Carré greatness, and he seems a bit too eager to accommodate the ADD of today's average reader (the book jumps from Zaire to Sicily to Monte Carlo to Rome and back again with stunning frequency), but the result is, admittedly, decent, even compelling, with twists that aren't as easy to see coming as you would think. Land can even be forgiven the odd bit of clunky dialogue (“What have you learned about our asshole enemy?”), as he generally follows it with a memorable one (“After he's dead, don't gouge out his eyes.”).
Curiously, Land has chosen to stick mostly with actual places and personalities, and it never quite works. Why have Oscar Goodman introduce Tiranno to the city when a fictional mayor would have sufficed? Why have the Venetian, Mirage and Treasure Island as terrorist targets? And why use the aforementioned Sapp as the bodyguard for a fictional casino boss, particularly when he has no dialogue and no other function than to be mentioned?
It doesn't help matters that Land has Tiranno living at Lake Las Vegas, but has a casino boss living in the nonexistent Seven Hills Country Club (which Land locates in Summerlin, and not Seven Hills).
But what Land lacks in consistency, he more than makes up for in harmless thrills. Go ahead—enjoy the hell out of this book, and hate yourself later.
The bottom line: ***1/2