publication date: January 2008

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Rated: A
Review date: January 18, 2008

Loren D. Estleman's knife-edged serial-killer thriller, Gas City is pared to its very bone. As a murderer's spree continues, the tensions simmering in a quiet oil-company town boil to the surface. Suddenly a powerful mafioso, a corrupt police chief, and the reporters covering the story find themselves pitted against one another in ways they never could have imagined. 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.

Lead Review, by Marilyn Stasio
Review date: January 27, 2008

Shades of the Muckrakers

The shades of Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair must have been looking over Loren D. Estleman’s shoulder when he wrote GAS CITY (Forge, $24.95). Set in a Midwestern metropolis that grew up around a refinery, his muscular novel initially takes a long view of the cynical bargain struck between civic leaders and organized crime — and only moves in for the kill when a key figure in this devil’s dance decides to reform. Like earlier muckraking writers, Estleman is always looking for the tipping point where our frontier values of independent entrepreneurship and community justice tumble into criminality. And his characters never stop asking whether it’s possible to go back and get it right.
Everyone in Gas City seems to be in on the deal that keeps crime and vice confined to 10 downtown blocks, well away from the commercial and residential districts. Francis X. Russell, the corrupt chief of police, is actually best friends with the mob boss Tony Z. But when Russell’s beloved wife dies, he goes into mourning for the lost ideals of the generations of immigrants who built his working-class city and resolves to make peace with his conscience. Police raids close down the most notorious criminal establishments. Illicit income dries up for gangsters and cops on the take. Fortunes shift in the coming mayoral race.
But once the delicate power-sharing mechanism held by Gas City’s legal and illegal bosses breaks down, so does municipal order. At this point, Estleman has to ask whether one crooked cop’s personal reformation is worth the chaos it causes. It’s a loaded question, since the author has made individual (and perhaps national) redemption his central theme, even to the whimsical point of extending it to a serial killer known as Beaver Cleaver, who has shifted his pattern of butchery. (“My theory,” a criminal profiler says, “is he’s trying to cut down, like a smoker or an alcoholic tapering off his intake until he’s beaten the addiction.”) While this parallel plot isn’t entirely integrated into the main story, it lets more raffish downtown characters into the mix, adding their irreverent voices to the higher debate over how much it profits a man to build a shining city and lose his faith in himself.

Review date: January 1, 2008

Francis X. Russell is Gas City's chief of police. For many years, he has maintained a gentleman's agreement with the local Mob boss, Anthony Zeno. The drugs, the illegal gambling, and the hookers stay within a small, clearly defined area of the city. In return, Russell receives financial consideration, and the city at large remains relatively crime free. When Russell's wife of 30-plus years succumbs to cancer, the chief has a crisis of conscience and begins raids into the restricted area. The repercussions are significant with a mayoral race approaching. Political alliances are altered, Zeno loses the endorsement of the out-of town
crime hierarchy to which he reports, Mob-controlled unions threaten strikes, and even the city's powerful Catholic church is knocked off balance. Mix in a serial killer dubbed "Beaver Cleaver" by the media and a doomed love affair between a disgraced cop and a hooker for what 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.
— Wes Lukowsky

Review Date: NOVEMBER 15, 2007
A star is assigned to books of unusual merit, determined by the editors of Kirkus Reviews.)

Portrait of a city by an old master.
Police Chief Francis X. Russell has made his big, complex, oil refinery-dominated city among the most livable in the United States, according to some. He's also made a pact with the Devil, according to others. Newspaper publisher Joe Cicero puts the case this way: "Just because the trains run on time is no excuse to leave the crooks in charge." The crooks, in this case, are the Mafia, embodied locally by opera-loving Anthony Zeno, whose exterior only partially conceals the mind-set of an unregenerate killer. In cozy cahoots, the cop and the thug have long since arrived at an entente: Russell keeps his minions away from Gas City's seamy, steamy underbelly, aka the Circle, and in return he gets the rest of Gas City as a no-crooks zone, where wives, daughters and private property have been rendered sacrosanct. Moral codes aside, it's an obvious win-win situation. The bad guys roll in money; respectable Gas City breathes crime-free air. From time to time, it's true, there will be a bit of editorial fuming, but who takes newspapers seriously anymore? And then suddenly Russell's beloved spouse dies, leaving him bereft and rudderless—until, in some quite mysterious way, an epiphany happens. Russell becomes not only a changed man, but, to the dismay of certain entrenched interests—in and out of the Circle—a no-holds-barred reformer. Reprisals follow raids, of course, and respectable Gas City, its Edenic period a thing of the past, learns the hard way that honest government comes with a price tag.
The chronically undervalued Estleman ( American Detective, 2007, etc.) serves up what just might be the best novel about urban political corruption since Dashiel Hammett's The Glass Key.

Review Date: NOVEMBER 5, 2007

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.

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