10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Stephen E. Adams
- Published on Amazon.com
Loren Estleman's new novel, "Gas City," is another solid work by a man whose strong sense of geographic place, compelling narratives, and sharply drawn characters have brought alive stories from Tombstone to Motown. In "Gas City," Estleman has created a corrupt Midwestern city, peopling it with gangsters, cops, newspapermen, drunks, dancers, bartenders, and millionaires, none of them stereotypes, all of them richly alive with their own histories establishing the back story of the city itself.
While Estleman has become widely know for his Amos Walker series of hard-boiled detective novels (set in Detroit), "Gas City" seems more closely related to two of his westerns: "Billy Gashade" and "Bloody Season." Both titles routinely make appearances on any list where westerns are being discussed as serious fiction, and it is their precise historical detail and the battered, almost shabby quality of their protagonists that is most evident in "Gas City."
The story in "Gas City" takes a number of sharp turns during its telling--that of a corrupt police chief, Francis X. Russell, who, after a lifelong career of cooperation with the mobster who runs the town, Anthony Zeno, decides to do an about face with his life following the death of his wife. Suspense builds over whether or not Russell, who, as a Catholic wouldn't contemplate taking his own life, is trying to goad the mob into killing him. Adding to the novel's elements is a mysterious hit man, an alcoholic ex-cop turned hotel detective and pimp trying to straighten out his own life, and a gruesome serial killer. Estleman, who once parodied the detective genre in his hilarious "Peeper," also uses dialogue which is as good as anything by Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard for sarcasm and ironic humor.
For any reader who enjoys well-written, richly detailed, and highly readable suspense novels, Loren Estleman is a true find. "Gas City" is a great place to start. The good news is that, once you're hooked, you'll discover that Estleman has written a shelf of other compelling reads.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Unneedful of haste, Loren Estleman, in this standalone novel, limns a tale of an `ordinary' Midwestern blue-collar city with its usual equal parts of good guys and bad, corruption and greed, which with one precipitating event begins to boil to a point where it may just combust. Pivotal characters include Police Chief Francis Russell, married for 55 years to his beloved Martha ("Marty"), and devastated by her death as the book opens; Anthony Zeno ("Tony Z"], boss of The Circle, an area of ten square blocks ["the only thing the area required to be considered an independent city was its telephone exchange"] to which all the sex-for-sale, drugs, gambling, etc. of the city are confined; Nicholas Bianco ("Mr. White"), Tony's boss; Moe Shiel, the unofficial and unsworn Chief of Police of the Circle, as well as its unelected Mayor; and Hugh Dungannon, Russell's boyhood friend now a Bishop in the church; and assorted others. The town was built around an oil company which is and always has been its most important component and employer.
Russell's life is now immeasurably saddened. He hasn't seen his daughter in 12 years; his son was killed while serving in the Armed Forces in southeast Asia. He has served as Chief for five terms, during all of which time he has had an "understanding" the local Mafia boss With his wife's death, the latter is unsure whether Russell will "continue to hold up his end." Indeed, he ponders whether redemption is possible, and considers actually doing the job he was hired to do all those years ago.
In addition to those described above, the book is full of colorful characters: The hotel detective who says of himself: "Being a busted copy was as bad as being a defrocked priest. It took practice to keep your lies straight;" Zeno's wife, Deanne, whose husband describes her as "healthy as a horse. And just as expensive to keep;" a local judge who "had developed the bad habit, after seventy, of slipping in and out of gear when he was running for reelection. In his dotage he thought his seat on the bench had something to do with ballots." In the midst of a mayoral campaign, the town is hit with a serial killer, variously referred to as the Black Bag killer [for his choice of container for body parts] or Beaver Cleaver [for his choice of weapon].
I found I had to pay close attention when reading for fear of missing subtlely wonderful passages, which abound. One of my favorites was this description of Russell's reactions upon his wife's passing: "And then the rage and heat were gone, and there was a hole through him and he had to turn so the wind wouldn't whistle through it. He'd been preparing for this moment for weeks - years, he corrected, from the time the results of the first tests had come back and he'd stopped arguing with them - and he'd hoped the dread of the waiting would give way to a sense of release. He'd felt it for a moment, with the last exhalation, when she took her leave of her body, a lacy apparition in a cheap religious print. But this was a new level of emptiness. What he'd thought was the bottom collapsed beneath his weight, the thinnest of crusts, and he went plummeting yet again. It was like falling in a dream. They said if you woke up before you hit, you were okay, but if you didn't, well, that was when people died in their sleep. It seemed better than this eternal falling."
"Gas City" is a very pleasurable and satisfying read, and is recommended.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Something pulled me towards GAS CITY when I was in a bookstore. I have no idea what. Call it book radar, but I’m delighted that it grabbed me. I am a tough critic regarding books and nothing prepared me to Estleman’s truly remarkable work.
While GAS CITY functions as a superlative mystery, it’s really not a mystery novel. While a writer less talented than Estleman might have called the book, “Francis Russell’s Rebirth,” or “Jim Palmer: Private Dick,” or “The Bishop of Perpetual Misery,” the title of the book is perfect because Gas City IS the main character. Estleman eviscerates US politics through a microcosm for everything rotten in our political system. I’ve read a lot of political novels and non-fiction quasi-exposés about the detritus that govern our country, but I can’t recall any book that so thoroughly removes any gloss or appeal that we are indoctrinated to apply to and feel towards government.
Estleman’s use of language – its rhythms, syntax, metaphors, and vivid descriptions in which every word is essential — is really wondrous. The narrator, who speaks in the deadest of deadpans, is totally consistent and, this is not easy to pull-off. As much as I would like to see GAS CITY adapted to film, I don’t think it’s possible. There are so many characters that the story almost takes on Biblical proportions; and each one, no matter how small, is developed and described in detail that is uncommon in contemporary fiction. At one point, I concluded that perhaps a glossary was in order. It really helps to be a gangster to fully comprehend some of the plot. (If only I had followed my chosen career path and become a hetman!)
If you would like two tidbits of what you can expect, take this away with you. Estleman describes the subject of a funeral as the “extinguished distinguished.” Personally, I would reverse the word order, but now that you’ve read this, will you ever forget it? I may have to crash a funeral to indulge my need to use the term. Near the end of the book, he describes a posh carpet in terms of a Rorschach inkblot test. I laughed so hard that it hurt.
But the best thing about GAS CITY is my (belated) discovery of a great American writer. If it’s true that Estleman has given us over 70 books, then I have an embarrassment of riches to experience.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Things are changing in Gas City. The refinery that drives the local economy is failing. The "agreement" between the police chief and the local mob boss that keeps crime confined to "The Circle" is breaking down after the chief's wife dies. The newspapers are trying to decide what mayoral candidate to back and which candidate to flog on the basis of what is likely to increase circulation during these troubled times. And on top of all that there is a serial killer on the loose called "Beaver Cleaver."
The most interesting part of "Gas City" centers around a disgraced former police officer named Palmer who is barely employed as a detective at the seedy Railroad Arms hotel. Palmer begins to wonder what he has gotten himself into when he gets curious about a suspicious, unregistered guest in Room 116. He is reminded once again of what he liked about being a policeman. He might want to be respectable again.
He decides to kick the booze and the cigarettes, but he doesn't get much support. Even his girlfriend (who is a prostitute) says she liked Palmer better as a drunk.
There is a lot to like in "Gas City." There are some interesting themes, some unique descriptions, some great characters, and some humorous moments. There is a lot going on.
It's not all good, though. I could not get a handle on the city at the center of the story. It sounds like a cross between Manhattan and Tulsa. It has a race track, a mob boss, ethnic neighborhoods, and a convention center, but only two TV stations?
My main problem with Gas City was that it had no single driving plot to it. When I was finished I felt that "Gas City" was a collection of subplots and supporting characters for a daytime soap opera.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Loren D. Estleman is an author whose time has surely come. Gas City is a superb piece of work, masterfully paced and utterly engrossing. The sharp characterization, canny ear for dialogue, and uniquely vivid description of setting makes this a hard book to put down. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future releases by this talented novelist.