—Andrew Mackenzie

Noir detective story meets Vegas cab driver

Andrew Mackenzie’s Shadow Beneath the Lights: A Vegas Cabbie Noir is a basic, straight-forward narrative of a cab driver working a twelve hour night shift in Las Vegas. Each chapter has the time of day for its title, so we come to see the novella from the protagonist’s perspective (let’s call him “the cabbie”, since he remains anonymous): a night shift he has to slog through, as he did the day before, and as he will have to do again tomorrow.

Because of how Mackenzie has structured the story, time itself almost becomes the antagonist. We find ourselves riding along with the narrator, experiencing the ups and downs of the job, suffering the slings and arrows of no tips, break-downs, and broke fares, and the uplift of romantic possibilities, kick-backs from high-priced establishments, and some possible good news from family.

The story gives off “hard-boiled detective” vibes: that cynical, dark, roller-coaster ride through the underbelly of a city, with sudden flashes of bright colours, like the neon signs lighting up the Vegas strip.

Beyond the ever-present sense of time, there are no characters of note; excepting the protagonist, and his nemesis at the end. Fleeting figures appear and disappear during the shift, moving in and out of the cab like ghosts haunting a mansion. And there is barely any dialogue; instead, we are remain within the cabbie’s head, told in first person what people said to him, and how he responded.

There is no story arc here. No character development. The plot is only a device for the setting, which itself is mundane and lonely. Until the very end, when the roller-coaster ride of the shift – one which has been emblematic of all shifts, essentially a rudderless ship at the mercy of the wind and water – begins to become exceptional: unusual financial success for this shift, romantic possibility, and even a family member with a mysterious opportunity…

No spoilers. I can say no more.

If you’re a fan of gritty, noir detective stories, one in which the detective is not a detective but a cab driver, who casually kills time watching a Netflix documentary on quantum physics or scarfing down some McDonald’s, then this short book is for you. And even if you are not, this little character study, a roller coaster ride of highs and lows from someone who writes what he knows, will certainly entertain an hour of your shift away, bringing you that much closer to its end.