Thugs and corrupt officials have taken over Steeltown, a once-prosperous manufacturing city somewhere in America's Rust Belt. Since would-be reformers have failed to clean up the mess, an elderly business tycoon who once ran the town as his personal fiefdom hires Jackson Cain to return control to its alleged rightful ownersthe old-line business oligarchy. Eventually, the town and all of its institutions collapse into utter chaos, as does the personality of Cain, the protagonist. This novel reads like the sort of Hollywood Western in which a hard man comes to rescue a beleaguered community from bad elements. Those old movies, however, were fundamentally optimistic in their assumption that the weakness that necessitated the rescue was simply the fragility of youth: the audience knew, comfortably, that civilized society would be reconstituted. Grady ( Flight of the Condor ), on the other hand, is profoundly pessimistic, writing from the premise that American society is irremediably failing. The book also evinces a distasteful contempt for reformers and a tendency to portray the mass of ordinary citizens as a mere herd.
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