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.