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by Ed Falco
William Heinemann, May 2012
488 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 0434020982

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The popularity of THE GODFATHER series of books and films was such that few people picking up this book will be unfamiliar with the Corleone family. That series began in 1946 with Vito Corleone as an established and respected Don, with his sons Sonny, Fredo and Michael, and adopted son Tom Hagen, well into their twenties. The second film in the series had a section of back story showing Vito at the time when he took his first steps towards life as a mafioso.

THE FAMILY CORLEONE starts in 1933, between these two periods, when Vito is a rising crime boss but under threat from the largest New York family, run by Giuseppi Mariposa, whose business has shrunk with the end of prohibition and is looking at Corleone interests with an acquisitive eye. Outside of business, Vito has hopes that his boys will find legitimate careers. Fredo and Michael are still kids at the time, and Tom is in college. Sonny, however, ostensibly working in a garage, is well aware of his father's business and although only seventeen is already showing enthusiasm for criminal enterprise as a way of life.

THE FAMILY CORLEONE is written by Ed Falco, based on a screenplay by Mario Puzo, who wrote THE GODFATHER in 1969. Falco's style is different from that of Puzo, tending to be sparer with exposition of background and motivation, with fewer long speeches and more dialogue, in keeping with much modern crime fiction. He is also relieved of the necessity of saying too much about Sicilian families and traditions: thanks to Puzo this no longer needs lengthy explanation. Generally, however, the book slots smoothly into Puzo's chronicle. The characters from those stories are under development, and in some cases pretty strange characters they are, particularly Luca Brasi. The same themes are evident: the ambivalence by the head of the Corleones - the wish to live a simple life at peace with his neighbours while being driven by his concept of honour to forcefully assert the claims of his family and friends, and the drive to go 'legit' while being unable or unwilling to surrender the levers of power.

There is, of course , a more up-to-date model of the New York Italian crime family in the Sopranos, who make Vito Corleone's strictness about sexual matters and rejection of drug peddling sound rather quaint. The violence of Vito's early years in Sicily and the discrimination against minorities in the US at the time provide greater justification for his criminality, but ultimately the price of a mafia life is just the same: social confinement and a life of violence and danger that coarsens the sensibilities. As with Puzo's saga, Falco's book illustrates this reality.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, June 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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