Gas City: A Novel Paperback – Mar 3 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Shamus-winner Estleman, best known for his hard-boiled Amos Walker series (American Detective, etc.), creates a new, morally complex world in this razor-sharp tale of crime and corruption in a fictional eastern U.S. city. Gas City, once known as Garden Grove, has enjoyed stability as a result of understandings among the politicians, the police and the local gangsters. An enclave known as the Circle serves as the community's vice outlet, while the rest of the metropolis is virtually crime free. Police chief Francis Russell, after his wife's death, begins to question the devil's bargain he'd struck years earlier with mob boss Anthony Zeno. When Russell resumes acting like a lawman, virtually everyone in town feels the repercussions. Estleman masterfully creates a wide and diverse cast of characters, and sympathetically portrays their struggles to survive on the mean streets. A superfluous serial killer subplot doesn't detract from the author's achievement, which will justly be compared with that of James Ellroy's Los Angeles noir mysteries and John Gregory Dunne's True Confessions. Admirers of unsparing crime fiction will hope that Estleman plans to visit Gas City again. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Loren D. Estleman's knife-edged serial-killer thriller, Gas City is pared to its very bone… Estleman, in the leanest prose possible, brings to life not just his characters but the vices that fuel them and, in the process, exposes the gritty, ragged, sordid underbelly of urban life. He's been called an heir to Chandler -- and it's easy to see why. A ” ―Entertainment Weekly
“Shamus-winner Estleman, best known for his hard-boiled Amos Walker series (American Detective, etc.), creates a new, morally complex world in this razor-sharp tale of crime and corruption in a fictional eastern U.S. city.... will justly be compared with that of James Ellroy's Los Angeles noir mysteries and John Gregory Dunne's True Confessions. Admirers of unsparing crime fiction will hope that Estleman plans to visit Gas City again. ” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“May be the prolific Estleman's most thought-provoking and emotionally engaging novel among the 60 or so he's written. Its subject is contemporary rust-belt politics as a human phenomenon and the way that a politician's compromises can affect both the citizenry at large and the individuals who make up that citizenry. Each of the half-dozen plotlines is executed flawlessly and presented in a context of moral ambiguity in which every choice--whether self-serving or altruistic--has consequences both good and evil. A magnificent crime novel.” ―Booklist (Starred Review)
“Portrait of a city by an old master... The chronically undervalued Estleman ( American Detective, 2007, etc.) serves up what just might be the best novel about urban political corruption since Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key.” ―Kirkus (Starred Review)
“It is as if Sinclair Lewis or Theodore Dreiser had written a contemporary crime novel while suddenly developing a sense of humor.” ―Otto Penzler, New York Sun
“Estleman's spare dialogue; unhurried, self-assured storytelling style; and understated and profound use of symbolism make this a novel to savor.” ―Paul Goat Allen, The Chicago Tribune
“Forget honors for an individual book – Estleman, in his prime at 56 years old, is as deserving as anyone of MWA's Grand Master Award, recognizing a formidable contribution to mystery fiction. And it better happen soon, before ‘undervalued' becomes a permanent prefix to his name.” ―Eddie Muller, San Francisco ChronicleSee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.