Don Winslow’s City in Ruins Wraps Up His Danny Ryan Trilogy

The good news is that Don Winslow’s City in Ruins is a terrific finale to his Danny Ryan trilogy which follows the young gangster from his beginnings in Rhode Island (City on Fire), his escape to begin a new life in California (City of Dreams), to his re-emergence as a successful hotel and casino operator in Las Vegas. The bad news is that Winslow says City in Ruins will be his last novel. But we haven’t seen the last of Danny Ryan. The first in the Ryan trilogy will soon be a feature film with Austin Butler, who received an Oscar nomination for his starring role in Elvis, playing Ryan. 

Winslow has amassed an astounding body of work. Besides the Ryan trilogy, he’s won raves for his cartel trilogy (The Power of the Dog, The Cartel, and The Border), which is headed for a streaming series. His standalone, The Force, which delved into corruption in the NYPD, is also apparently headed for the big screen with Matt Damon to star. 

Don Winslow (Photo by Robert Gallagher)

Like The Godfather’s Michael Corleone, Danny Ryan, after decades as a mobster, has finally gone semi-legit, yet forces keep pulling him back into a life of crime. City in Ruins is set in 1997, after many of the mafia-types have been driven from sin city. Ryan, and his main competitor, Vern Winegard, dominate the strip with their hotel/casinos. The Nevada Gaming Control Board, determined to keep organized crime out of Vegas, wasn’t going to let Danny Ryan own a casino, saying he has “known mob associates.” His attorneys argue there is not “a single fact linking Mr. Ryan to organized crime,” and win a partial victory. Ryan cannot own a casino, the board decides, but can be employed by one. So he becomes a silent partner in the Tara Group. 

Danny has never had luck with women. His wife, Teresa, mother to their son, Ian, died from breast cancer. During his time in Hollywood, Danny fell in love with Diane Carson, a Marilyn Monroe like starlet with a dark history of her own. Danny felt he could save Diane by leaving her. Instead, distraught from being abandoned by the man she loved, she overdosed. In Vegas, Danny has a regular girlfriend, Eden Landau, a psychologist who has a private practice and teaches at a local college. But she insists their relationship remain off the radar, so the two are never seen in public together. The arrangement also seems to suit Danny who knows that being outed as his lover would subject Eden to unwanted scrutiny. 

The one visible woman in Danny’s life is his mother, Madeleine McKay, who serves as a substitute mother for Ian and a business advisor for her son. Madeleine is wealthy in her own right. In fact, Danny and Ian live in a mansion she inherited from Manny Maniscalco, who made a fortune selling cheap lingerie. He and Madeleine divorced after a few years, but when he became ill, she came back to care for him. He left the house and grounds to her, along with millions, adding to her already burgeoning investment portfolio.

Danny, too, is wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. At Danny’s urging, the Tara Group purchases the failing Scheherazade and transforms it into the Casablanca with a new business model. Rather than a mega-hotel with 3,000-plus rooms, the Casablanca has only 1,000 and stresses personal service. Despite the naysayers, the hotel is a hit with its customers. “Keeping a customer,” Danny tells his partners, “is a lot cheaper than acquiring one.”

As soon as the Casablanca starts making money, Danny manages to get enough together to purchase another failing property – the Starlight – and turns it into The Shores, offering people a beach vacation in the desert. Danny still isn’t done. There’s one more old hotel he’s eager to add to the Tara Group’s holdings. The Lavinia, owned by George Stavros, may be rundown, but the building has a prime spot on the strip, wedged between Danny’s hotels and those owned by Winegard. Whoever manages to buy the Lavinia will rule the strip.

Stavros has agreed to sell to Winegard, but Danny convinces him to take a meeting. Using information about Stavros’ past from Pasco Ferri, a former Rhode Island crime boss now retired in Florida, Danny gets the deal to build his next extravaganza – Il Sogna, The Dream. When Winegard learns he’s been outbid, he’s furious and a series of events unfolds that will place everything that Danny holds dear in jeopardy.

Interspersed between Ryan’s story, Winslow catches readers up on two characters from his earlier books. Peter Moretti, Jr. is on trial for murder, charged with avenging his father’s death by killing his mother and her lover. And Chris Palumbo, who fled Rhode Island and has been living in Nebraska, has to come out of hiding to help his wife and son. 

Whether dealing with organized crime or drug cartels, Winslow excels at bringing the reader into those worlds where it’s often hard to tell the good guys and gals from the bad guys and gals. In City in Ruins, Danny Ryan is a little bit of both, and that makes it easy to root for him.

While Winslow’s fans will miss reading his fiction, he won’t disappear. According to an interview he gave to the Los Angeles Times, he wants to devote his time to political activism. “I wanted in the fight,” he told the newspaper. “I didn’t want to be writing a fiction obituary of America losing democracy.”

City in Ruins
Don Winslow 

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (705 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.