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The Princess of Las Vegas


The Princess of Las Vegas

» Click here to read Ray Palen's review.


Review #1 by Roberta O’Hara

My money is always on Chris Bohjalian. And he never fails to deliver a winner. His latest thriller, THE PRINCESS OF LAS VEGAS, is a fast-paced tale of murder, money and mistaken identities set in the city of sin itself, albeit a bit off the strip. In typical Bohjalian style, he creates a believable seedy and edgy Buckingham Palace casino that has little in common with its namesake castle other than the ghost of Princess Diana. 

Crissy Dowling is an actor whose uncanny resemblance to the departed Diana, assisted by a bit of bleach, has found her niche as the casino’s headliner and royal impersonator. Her nightly shows have a following, and she is known in town for her consummate act replete with high-end couture, the ex-husband-slash-newly-crowned-king, and even the bulimia that became tabloid fodder for the real regal. The palace may not be the Sands or the Luxor, but it has its charms, and Crissy has found her home there after leaving Vermont behind years before.

"Bohjalian excels at creating flawed and pained women, with histories that are often shocking and always revelatory. Betsy and Crissy are in the tradition of some of his best female protagonists."

When the two owners of the Palace suspiciously die within days of each other, Crissy’s life begins to unravel in ways she could not have foreseen. Her virtual doppelganger and estranged sister, Betsy, shows up in town with a new 13-year-old daughter, Marisa; a dubious boyfriend; and a fledgling career in the world of cryptocurrency with the Futurium company.

Crissy’s world collides with Betsy’s when her crypto-corrupted bosses see an opportunity to exploit the “princess” for their own monetary gain. Unwilling to participate in whatever scheme they have devised, Crissy is quickly replaced by her sister in a modeling gig gone wrong. And then, in true Bohjalian style, the body count goes up and includes Crissy’s new side squeeze, Gene.

Futurium’s leadership --- Rory O’Hara, Damon Ioannidis and Frankie Limback --- are the unscrupulous sort that evoke the bygone days of Vegas: the bodies buried under the sand, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, and the corruption at the heart of the birth of the gambling business. Cryptocurrency, in all its mystery, is the perfect parallel to those early days of building a city that was at once surprising and curious, but also shady. The Futurium crowd envisions taking over Buckingham Palace, and they will stop at nothing --- including endangering a child, bribing politicians and misdirections of gigantic magnitude --- to get what they want.

Bohjalian unfolds the story through alternating first-person accounts from Betsy and Crissy that illustrate both their differences and their similarities. At the heart of their relationship are two tragic related events that they don’t talk about. Bohjalian excels at creating flawed and pained women, with histories that are often shocking and always revelatory. Betsy and Crissy are in the tradition of some of his best female protagonists. And amidst this back-and-forth between the keeper of a secret and the scarred, the voice of Betsy’s teenage daughter surfaces as perhaps the smartest in the room. In the end, it’s Marisa’s wisdom beyond her years and beyond her own troubled childhood that brings turmoil and potentially more deaths to a conclusion.

In Crissy Dowling, Bohjalian gives us not the princess herself but an apt substitute who feeds society’s continued fascination with the royals. Crown culture is real, and Crissy plays into our inexhaustible desire to know more about what happens in Windsor and Buckingham. The book cautions that you cannot always believe what you read and what you think you see.

If I was a wagering woman, I would have more gambling bon mots to sprinkle throughout this review, but I’ll go back to what I said originally: Bohjalian always delivers a winner. THE PRINCESS OF LAS VEGAS is exactly that.



Review #2 by Ray Palen

The recent success of the Max series “The Flight Attendant” has finally put Chris Bohjalian on the map. For millions of others, like me, who have been reading his intelligent literary fiction for decades, this acclaim could not be more deserved.

Bohjalian continues to crank out stand-alone fiction that is undefinable, often crosses various genres, and is always clever and surprising. His latest release, THE PRINCESS OF LAS VEGAS, focuses on a Vegas cabaret show featuring an actress portraying the late and still very popular Diana Spencer.

Even though she has been a member of SAG/EQUITY for many years, Crissy Dowling has never had anything truly worthwhile in her prior performance experience before this latest gig that takes her from Vermont to Sin City. In fact, she probably only got the part because of her obsession with and uncanny resemblance to Princess Diana. However, there is much more to Crissy than the ability to act and be a look-alike performer. She has a complicated past that includes a difficult relationship with her sister, Betsy, who still lives in Vermont and is employed as a social worker. Crissy also has survived sexual abuse by her stepfather, who died by suicide, as did her mother years later.

"THE PRINCESS OF LAS VEGAS satisfies on so many levels and shows once again that Bohjalian is a writer worth following no matter what he produces."

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Crissy and Betsy, along with a brief commentary prior to each chapter from Betsy’s adopted daughter, Marisa. Some big things happen in the lives of the Dowling sisters to kick off the action here. Crissy’s show is set inside the Buckingham Palace casino, which is run by brothers Richie and Artie Morley. In less than a week, both will be dead, each of apparent suicides. The police investigate, but nothing is initially found to be suspicious.

Meanwhile, Betsy has an opportunity for a big change. Burnt out from her years of social work, she has latched on to a new boyfriend. Frankie Limback is involved in a new scheme with Futurium, a company that is looking to make it big in the cryptocurrency and bitcoin industry. His role in this venture coincidentally will send him to Las Vegas, and he offers to take Betsy and Marisa with him, promising Betsy an administrative role with the organization.

Crissy takes it all in stride, although having her estranged sister in her playground will definitely feel weird --- especially as Betsy also bears a resemblance to Princess Diana. Marisa is eager to meet her Aunt Crissy and, being an internet research expert, has done her due diligence when it comes to Diana. Crissy is a bit preoccupied with her own job security, and Eddie, the partner of the late Morley brothers, is waiting to hear from their lawyers about the next steps and who might be out there looking to purchase the casino.

Betsy is settling into her new role and relationship but begins to get a tad leery about Frankie’s business partners. The first time Frankie and some of his colleagues meet Crissy, they act quite inappropriately, making her feel awkward and uneasy. It is shortly revealed that Futurium would like to take over the casino and claims to be very interested in her Princess Diana show. Crissy is warned about them, not only by the head of security at the casino but also by the man she has just begun casually seeing, an ex-Russian citizen who is working with a company that currently has him on contract in Vegas.

When Crissy’s new boyfriend turns up dead due to a supposed fall while hiking at Red Rocks just outside of Vegas, Crissy becomes an instant suspect as she was seen in the vicinity at the time. She denies this and claims it was her sister, who Futurium may have been using to play her own version of Princess Diana to set up Crissy in a larger scheme to which Betsy was not privy. With not one but two Diana look-alikes in the area, you know things are going to get interesting.

Betsy tries to break it off with Frankie and bail out of Futurium, but it is not that easy as the organization is backed by the Russian mafia and is not used to having people get away with disappointing them. With Crissy under fire from the police on a couple of “suicide” cases and Betsy and Marisa trapped in the clutches of Futurium, the Dowling sisters find themselves in a great amount of danger with no help in sight except from each other.

Chris Bohjalian deftly takes all that I have described, which typically would be enough for an engaging thriller, and infuses it with his upper-echelon writing ability to create a complex family drama that has a deadly adventure at its heart. THE PRINCESS OF LAS VEGAS satisfies on so many levels and shows once again that Bohjalian is a writer worth following no matter what he produces.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara and Ray Palen on March 22, 2024

The Princess of Las Vegas
by Chris Bohjalian

  • Publication Date: March 19, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385547587
  • ISBN-13: 9780385547581