I read this for the 2016 Cloak and Dagger Mystery Reading Challenge
Gas City – Loren D. Estleman
This crime novel opens with the funeral of the wife of a corrupt police chief. His corruption has played a role in enabling a Rust Belt city of three-quarters of a million, allowing it to get all the vice it wants in the bad neighborhood but enjoy safe streets where nice people live. Other enablers of dope, illegal gambling and prostitution include organized crime figures and their minions and politicians and their hangers-on. In this hard-boiled novel, it’s hard to tell difference between hustlers with guns and hustlers with fountain pens.
But the death of the chief’s wife has consequences. First, it puts the chief though a crisis of conscience. A good Irish Catholic, suicide is out of the question. So he decides to get unbought and clean up city’s rackets, thus inviting getting knocked off by an enraged Mob. Second, the anti-vice campaign motivates a drunken PI to clean up his act by doing his job better and quitting smoking and drinking. His GF, a prostitute, considers leaving The Life. Third, with so much virtue going around, a serial killer starts to get sloppy with clues, as if he were feeling that the only way he was going to stop killing was if he got caught.
This is a crime novel, not a mystery. The main focus is not on catching the serial killer, but on the changes the various characters are going though. Incidents lead to a climax that ties everything up in a nice bow. Estleman’s goal for this novel, I think, was to examine the effects of crime and its attendant corruption on politics in a small city. He never forgets the human element, though, in creating plausible characters and motivations.