Book review: The Family Corleone by Ed Falco

The Family Corleone by Ed FalcoFrom the back cover:
“New York, 1933. The city and the nation are in the depths of the Great Depression. The crime families of New York have prospered in this time, but with the coming end of Prohibition, a battle is looming that will determine which organizations will rise and which will face a violent end.
For Vito Corleone, nothing is more important that his family’s future. While his youngest children, Michael, Fredo, and Connie, are in school, unaware of their father’s true occupation, and his adopted son Tom Hagen is a college student, he worries most about Sonny, his eldest child. Vito pushes Sonny to be a businessman, but Sonny-17 years-old, impatient and reckless-wants something else: To follow in his father’s footsteps and become a part of the real family business.”

Just reading the back cover make me excited about getting my hands on this book. I had read The Godfather about 10 years ago, and returning to those unforgettable characters was a treat.

“Make him an offer he can’t refuse” and movie producer Jack Woltz waking up to find his favorite horse’s severed head in his bed are images that are seared onto the minds of Godfather fans. The characters of Don Corleone and Sonny, of Luca Brasi and Tom Haegen are well-known and well-loved. But how did Vito Corelone become Don Corleone? Was Sonny always a hot-head? What makes Luca Brasi so formidable and so devoted to the Don? If you’ve ever wondered about these back stories, this book will give you the answers.

Cover of "The Godfather"
Cover of The Godfather

The novel starts in 1933 as Vito (and other mafia families) is plotting his move from controlling gambling and numbers in the Bronx to expanding the business following the end of Prohibition. And although he is firmly entrenched in this life, he doesn’t want his sons to follow in his footsteps. So he encourages Michael to focus on his studies, sends Tom Haegen to Columbia to study law and sets Sonny up in a garage, hoping that he will eventually make a name for himself in the automobile business. But Sonny wants nothing more than to join his father’s business, and takes his first steps into that world as the head of a gang of 17-year old hijackers. By staying in the background when the deals for the hooch he hijacks are struck, he ensures that his father knows nothing about his extra-curricular activities. Michael, meanwhile, is immersed in his studies, while Connie and Fredo are pretty much in the background.

The really interesting part of the novel, though, is Luca Brasi, who gets a starring role in The Family Corleone. Falco paints him as a dark character known as El diablo (the devil), who strikes fear in the hearts of all the mafioso. No one wants to cross the brutal Brasi, as stories abound about his legendary strength, death-defying feats and brutality. Falco explores the origins of his brutal nature as Brasi goes from being an independent gang leader to becoming Don Corleone’s most faithful enforcer.

Flaco stays close to Puzo’s writing style, and the extensive glossary of Italian words at the end of the book really bring the mafia world alive. Based on a screenplay by Mario Puzo, The Family Corleone is a rip-roaring page turner that should make fans of The Godfather happy.

Disclaimer: I got a copy of this book from Random House India, but the review and opinions expressed are my own.

Book review: The Devotion of Suspect X – Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X is a brilliant crime thriller. But unlike most thrillers, in this one, the reader already knows who the murderer is. So then, what is its allure?

Devotion of Suspect X

Ishigami is a brilliant mathematician, but due to certain family troubles he wasn’t able to follow his dream of becoming an academic. Instead, he earns his living as a high school maths teacher. Known in college as the Buddha, this highly logical and practical man finds himself head over heels in love with his neighbor Yasuko. When her ex-husband tracks her down yet again, her entire life is turned upside down. Things between them reach a head and she and her daughter end up murdering him. Hearing the scuffle and deducing what has happened, Ishigami comes to their rescue. His love for Yasuko pushes him to help the mother and daughter cover up the crime. But in all of his careful planning, he couldn’t have known one thing – that Yukawa, his classmate at the Imperial University, who is a brilliant physicist himself, often helps the lead detective Kusanagi in his investigations. When he hears about the case, he learns that the Buddha is the neighbor of the suspect. Since he hasn’t seen him since their university days, he goes over to meet an old friend and adversary. From that chance interaction, and with Kusanagi discussing aspects of the case with him, Yukawa gets pulled into the hunt for the killer.

Will Ishigami win this clash of wits or will Yukawa be able to pierce through his elaborately created smoke screen?

The characters are well drawn out and believable. Ishigami, as a maths professor, has a coldly calculating mind that helps him cover up the murder. Yukawa, as a brilliant physicist, is able to piece together various, seemingly disparate clues to come ever closer to the truth.  Kusanagi, the detective, is caught between these two brilliant minds. Yasuko and her daughter are regular people caught up in events not of their choosing. How their stories play out, the untangling of the plot points, the development of the plot, all of it is brilliantly done.

Keigo Higashino has created a masterful, taunt plot. He’s thrown a lot of maths problems into the novel, but even if you, like me, hate maths, you won’t find that a turn off, nor will you find any of it hard to follow. Some of the problems, in fact, are rather philosophical in nature. And no matter how much you think you know, you won’t be able to guess the twist at the end of the story.

It’s a thrilling read, both for the sheer brilliance of Ishigami’s cover up and Yukawa’s search for the truth, and for the acute observational skills of both these adversaries. You find yourself caring deeply for the characters, hoping and praying that Yukawa will be unsuccessful in his search. Will he, though? That is something you will have to find out for yourself!

Already among the biggest selling Japanese thrillers ever and the inspiration for a cult film, The Devotion of Suspect X is a must read for any crime fiction buff.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel.

Sign up for the Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. and get free books! Participate now!