Fools Die: Readers suffer

Fools Die is by The Godfather author Mario Puzo.

Dust jacket of Fools Die has black text on white front, white text on black back.
The figure on Fools Die resembling a 1930s detective isn’t one.

Whereas The Godfather, despite its massive list of characters, was tightly focused and well-constructed, Fools Die is a collection of episodes about casual acquaintances, all of whom have appeared under other names in other novels by other authors.

The story begins in Hotel Xanadu, a Last Vegas gambling resort where four strangers meet at the tables.

One of them, Jordan, almost breaks the bank. Before the other three can hustle him out of Sin City’s temptations, Jordan shoots himself.

The others separate, but Cully and Merlyn keep in touch.

Cully goes to work for the Xanadu’s owner-operator; Merlyn goes back to New York to his wife, his boring job, and the novel that’s going to make him famous.

After that about a half-dozen stories compete for attention as the two men go their separate ways, meeting only when one of them needs a favor he can get from no one else.

A Paul E. Erdman or Arthur Hailey could have made the gambling industry interesting.

Puzo doesn’t.

He doesn’t make his characters plausible either: They sound like character sketches by graduate students in a seminar on a novel, complete with confusing sentence constructions and cringe-worthy grammar.
Let Fools Die alone.

Fools Die by Mario Puzo
Putnam, ©1978. 572 p.
1978 bestseller #3. My grade: C-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Gambler visits sins of father on daughter

The Gambler is a novel about an Irish girl whose life is imperiled by her genes, her upbringing, and her own innocence.

The danger to Clodagh is moral rather than mortal—and it’s terrifying.

 After gambling with her father, Milbanke encounters Clodagh
After gambling with her father, Milbanke encounters Clodagh who begs him not to encourage her father’s gambling habit.


Asshlin angrily refuses to let his old friend Milbanke refuse to accept payment for his gambline debt.
Asshlin angrily refuses to let his old friend Milbanke refuse to accept payment for his gambling debt.


The Gambler: A Novel by Katherine Cecil Thurston

Illus. John Cameron. Toronto: Fleming H. Revell,1905. 1905 bestseller #6. Project Gutenberg ebook #33490. My grade: B+.

When Denis Asshlin is fatally injured, his daughters write their father’s school friend, James Milbanke, for help.

Asshlin’s gambling has beggared his girls.

Milbanke can send Nance to boarding school, but what can he do with 17-year-old Clodagh?

Milbanke proposes marriage.

“I suppose it is what father used to call a debt of honour,” Clodagh says.

Four unhappy years later, while her husband talks about archaeology, Clodagh meets titled society people.

She envies—and fears—them.

After Milbanke dies leaving Clodagh a comfortable income, she rejoins her high society acquaintances.

Soon Clodagh’s gambling debts are larger than her annual income.

When she looks in the mirror, Clodagh sees her father’s face.

She accepts 1000£ from Lord Deerehurst realizing it obligates her but unaware what payment he expects.

A less adept writer than Katherine Cecil Thurston couldn’t have made Clodagh more than a pretty doll.

Thurston makes her a complicated woman-child, craving love and respect but traumatized by a childhood she cannot ever outgrow.

  © 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Tontine tests readers’ endurance

Always prolix, Thomas B. Costain outdoes himself in The Tontine.

It is a dreary novel on an epic scale.

The Tontine  by Thomas B. Costain

Doubleday ©1955.  2 v. Illus Herbert Ryman. 1955 bestseller #9. My grade: C-.

London businessman Samuel Carboy smells a scam in the 1815 Waterlook Tontine. He intervenes to save investors’ money—and milk the scheme in a more civilized manner. Dust jacket of The Tontine shows four characters in 19th century dress against backdrop of an hourglass.

Carboy, his partner, and Carboy’s carriage driver each buy shares in the tontine for their children.

The story follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the three families as they mess about on every continent until the tontine survivors dwindle to three: Isabelle Carboy, Julian Grace, and Helen Groody.

Interest in the tontine reaches fever pitch.

So much money is bet on the outcome that the British government fears attempt on the lives of the remaining trio.

Costain has so many plots and sub-plots, he can’t remember them all.

Sam Carboy’s milking of the tontine disappears without a trace.

Carboy’s son conveniently dies in America.

His grandson bankrupts his company—” hard times” is the reason Costain gives—and goes off to Africa to be heard of no more.

Julian Grace’s son disappears, too.

Too bad more characters didn’t disappear before they appeared in print: The Tontine is an awful novel.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Keyes missed boat with ’52 novel


Ornate mansions reminiscent of Mississippi riverboats were the inspiration for Steamboat Gothic. Like the architecture, Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novel is massive, ornate, and richly detailed. But like its architectural counterpart, the novel lacks the realistic characters that are the literary equivalent of indoor plumbing. And the book is so long, I kept wishing Keyes had been inspired by Bauhaus.

The story concerns Clyde Batchelor, an orphan boy who makes a fortune as a riverboat gambler. He woos and wins a Civil War widow, Lucy Page, and settles her in a Louisiana mansion.

The two live happily ever after, happily, that is, except for problems created by Lucy’s two children. Bushrod, an unpleasant child, grows into a thoroughly despicable man. Cary, the apple of her stepfather’s eye, is a delight until on her honeymoon she falls in love with a man other than her husband.

The last half of the novel traces the adventures of Cary’s son, Larry, as he grows to manhood during World War I. Larry inherits not only the family real estate, but the consequences of wrongs committed by his grandparents. He triumphs in the end, but by then nobody cares.

Steamboat Gothic
Frances Parkinson Keyes
Julian Messner, 1952
560 pages
1952 Bestseller #5
My grade: C-

Photo credit: “Steamboat 3” uploaded by Des1gn

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni