Joseph Flynn's Gasoline, Texas reads like a mystery novel, keeping the reader guessing as to who’s up to what, and for what juicy and scandalous reasons. This makes the story hard to put down, but also hard to identify with. Flynn’s characters are interesting and dynamic, but they’re not very fleshed out, and I never could bring myself to care much about what happened to them. Still, their adventure is a fun one to follow. Many of them also have fantastic monikers like Beeb, Buckminster, or Eveleen.
The main character, Ladbrook “Laddy” Johnson, may or may not be the secret love child of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Laddy is back in his hometown to run for mayor, after years of working as a stuntman in Hollywood. His college love, box-office big-shot Joanna Wells, is also back in town, and just happens to be in between husbands. After Laddy wins the mayoral election by the slimmest of margins, one might be tempted to think it’s time for him to settle down with Joanna and make his home in quiet Gasoline. But, of course, things are far more complicated than that.
To begin with, Laddy’s opponent, Edwin “Win-Win” Winslow, suffers a fatal heart attack en route to a public fistfight with Laddy. Win-Win’s Napoleon-complexed son, Walker, considers Laddy his personal nemesis, and, together with his hot-tempered mother Margaret, makes several attempts to foil Laddy’s personal and political aspirations. Win-Win’s other offspring, the long-lost Hayley, turns up at the news of her father’s death, as well, causing more confusion for Laddy (the two have an interesting history). Also complicating matters are movie star Lucan Thorn (Joanna’s two-time ex-husband), devious newspaper reporter Mary Sue Parker, and martial arts expert Erin de la Fuente, Joanna’s personal assistant.
Though Laddy is the central figure, the story unfolds through the eyes of several different characters. Though this makes the tale a bit more difficult to follow, it also has the effect of letting the reader in on more of Gasoline’s secrets than Laddy is privy to. That’s important in a mystery.
Gasoline, Texas is a quick, entertaining read, full of unexpected plot twists, juicy revelations, and sweet revenge. Flynn draws some interesting parallels between the manufactured drama of Hollywood and the real-life drama of life in Texas, where “the 19th century [is] never far away.” He’s also done his cultural and geographical research, and many of the story’s minor details will ring true for die-hard Texans. These details help keep the book grounded in reality, no matter how bizarre Gasoline's (and Laddy's) story becomes.