Michael Cordelone, exiled to Sicily at the end of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, is about to return to the US at the beginning of The Sicilian.
His father has ordered Michael to bring Salvatore “Turi” Guiliano to America with him.
Turi has been a bandit in the Robin Hood tradition since his teens. He is idolized by the poor for his opposition those who keep them poor: the government in Rome, the Mafia, the Catholic Church hierarchy, the police.
For seven years, Turi and his band have lived in the mountains, from which they raid and escape. Now Turi’s enemies seem to be joining forces against him.
Why does his father want Michael to help Turi?
How are the police and army getting information about Turi’s movements?
Can Michael get Turi out of the country before his enemies kill him?
Turi and the other characters are about as plausible as paper dolls.
There are a few tidbits of interesting Italian history in The Sicilian but the story is a bore.
Just as he did in Fools Die, his second attempt to recreate the success of The Godfather, in The Sicilian Mario Puzo produces an entirely forgettable novel.
The Sicilian: a novel by Mario Puzo
Linden Press/Simon & Schuster. 1984. 410 p.
1984 bestseller #3. My grade: B-
In chapter one of Rage of Angels, after “interminable years of law school,” 24-year-old Jennifer Parker on her first day on the staff of the Manhattan District Attorney does something totally implausible for which she faces disbarment and even prison.
If you can get past that first chapter, the rest of Sidney Sheldon’s novel Rage of Angels is not bad. (Its shortcomings probably are less glaring in the 1983 TV miniseries.)
Jennifer is so in love with the idea of being a lawyer that she is persistent, hard-working, and willing to learn from her courtroom mistakes.
She’s not so good at learning from her bedroom mistakes.
Jennifer is infatuated first by lawyer Adam Warner, who keeps her from being disbarred.
She has a child by Adam, but she never tells him about Joshua for fear of ruining Adam’s presidential bid.
Later she becomes infatuated by Michael Moretti, a Mafia boss whose business operations are very badly hurt by Adam’s anti-corruption schemes.
Jennifer makes a mess of her personal life and refuses to take personal responsibility for the consequences.
Fortunately, Sheldon avoids the amateur writers’ mistake of pasting a happy ending on a story that couldn’t possibly have a happy ending.
If you’ve read Hotel,Airport, or Wheels, you’ll be familiar with Arthur Hailey’s technique of merging a fictional story with exposition of how large organization works.
The Moneychangers applies that formula to the operation of a big bank but, since banks have changed less since the mid-20th century than airports or the auto industry, Moneychangers has more contemporary feel.
The story opens opens with Alex Vandervoort and Roscoe Heyward competing for the presidency of First Mercantile American Bank.
The two men have very different assessments of what banks should do. For Roscoe, it’s all about shareholder profits; for Alex it’s about making reasonable profit while serving communities.
Split evenly between the candidates, the bank board puts one of its members in the presidency, leaving Alex and Roscoe as vice presidents.
Hailey does his usual thorough job explaining banking operations while telling a story. And he keeps the subplots exciting and relevant.
The leading characters are each well-developed, individually interesting. They argue about the future of banking, including about how long it will be before the American economy collapses under its weight of debt, and about ethics.
And they make the arguments matter.
Thus, TheMoneychangers manages to be both easy reading and valuable reading.
The Moneychangers by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday  436 p.
1975 bestseller #2. My grade: A-
The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight is a comic novel about unfunny topics, such as murder, written by an angry man.
Author Jimmy Breslin, a brash New York Daily News columnist, invents a gang war between a Mafia don “Papa Baccala” and malcontents who want to get a bigger share of the proceeds: 100 percent is the figure they have in mind.
Instead of liquidating his opposition, Baccala decides to keep them quiet by letting them organize a six-day bike race and keep most of the money.
The opposition, led by Kid Sally Palumbo (Palumbo rhymes with Dumbo, get it?) are total incompetents.
Breslin makes fun of the incompetent crooks he invented, but beneath the sometimes ribald humor is a deep anger against competent political crooks and the intertwined police and justice systems that work against the innocent.
The film rights to Gang were sold before the book came out, which probably accounts for the novel’s sales: The novel is mostly a series of theatrical sight gags, funnier seen than read about.
The novel’s lasting contribution is undoubtedly its title: Referring to an organization as “a gang that can’t shoot straight” has become shorthand for systemic incompetence.
As one of the 32 people in America who hadn’t seen the film version of The Godfather, I was pleasantly surprised that the novel is not just another gory Mafia story.
Mario Puzo’s story is solid: It’s packed with more characters than a casting call, each of them interesting variations on familiar gangster-film types. The characters and fast-paced plot never let attention drag.
The Godfather is Don Vito Corleone, a well-to-do olive oil importer hoping one of his sons will take over the family business, which is a front for a gambling and extortion empire in New York City.
His eldest, Sonny, is keen on taking over, but too impulsive for the job; second son, Fredo, lacks leadership.
Michael, the youngest son, defied his father by entering the Marine Corps, became a hero, left the military for Dartmouth College, where he met an all-American WASP, whom he wishes to marry.
The outside story is about how Mike becomes head of the business and steps into his father’s role as Don.
The underlying story is about the culture people carry with them, a mindset and values that are resistant to geography and time.
The novel is worth rereading in 2017 for that underlying story alone.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
G. P. Putnam, 1969. 448 p. 1969 bestseller #2. My grade: A.
Norvin Blake arrives in Sicily in 1886 for the wedding of his best friend, Martel Savigno, who is a Mafia target. When assassins ambush them on the eve of the wedding, Norvin is unable to save Martel and his overseerer. Margherita is widowed before she is wed.
Norvin is called home his dying mother. Margherita and her companion, Lucretzia, have left Sicily and disappeared in New York City before Norvin gets his mother’s affairs settled in New Orleans.
Norvin enters the family cotton business. Mindful of his cowardice during the ambush, he trains himself to behave courageously.
When Sheriff Donnelly gets letters about Mafia activity in New Orleans, he recruits Norvin to help root it out. When Donnelly is murdered, Norvin takes over the chase personally.
Rex Beach lets readers enjoy seeing their predictions of the plot realized, then destroys their expectations in an astounding American version of Mafia mentality.
Beach ties up the story neatly, leaving nothing but the definition of justice unsettled.