Book Review: 'City of Ruins' completes a masterful Don Winslow trilogy

Years ago, when novelist Don Winslow first read Aeschylus, he recognized that the Greek father of literary tragedies had explored every major theme found in modern crime fiction, from murder, vengeance, and corruption to power, justice and redemption. He became obsessed, he said recently, with the idea of retelling the ancient stories in a modern-crime fiction trilogy.

For the last 30 years, while churning out a succession of books that include some of the best crime novels ever written, he worked on the ambitious project in fits and starts, sometimes despairing but never giving up.

“City of Ruins” marks the conclusion of his saga of Rhode Island mobster turned Las Vegas gambling tycoon Danny Ryan. If Winslow is to be believed, it is also the last novel he will ever write as he turns his considerable talents to political activism.

The trilogy opened with “City on Fire” (2021) as Ryan and a handful of allies fled Providence, Rhode Island, after losing a gang war to the Italian Mafia. It continued with “City of Dreams” (2023) as Ryan tried, and failed, to build a new life in Los Angeles.

As “City in Ruins” opens, we find an older Ryan operating as a silent partner in two Las Vegas casinos. A man who was once a dock worker and underworld strong arm in Providence is now rich beyond his dreams, but he still wants more.

Why, he wonders. Is it greed? No. Not that.

“Be honest with yourself,” he says. “You want more money because money is power and power is safety. And you can never be safe enough. Not in this world.”

After all, the Italian mob and the FBI are still out there, hell bent on revenge and/or justice for the crimes he’s committed. For the people he has killed.

So Danny overreaches.

He schemes to purchase a prime piece of real estate on the Las Vegas strip to build a fabulous gambling resort, putting him in conflict with the city’s power brokers including a rival casino owner who has mob connections of his own.

Soon, the old enemies also are circling. Danny does what he can to prevent the power struggle from turning violent, but through a series of miscalculations, bullets start flying, endangering not only his gambling empire but his life and the lives of those he loves.

While “City in Ruins” can be read as a standalone, readers would be best served by reading the trilogy from the beginning. With his compelling characters, his vivid prose, and his exploration of universal themes, Winslow has produced a masterpiece of modern crime fiction.


Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”


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