Omerta by Mario Puzo: A Book Review
Today we're going to take at a look at a novel from one of my favorite writers, the late, great Mario Puzo. This is, perhaps, one of his lesser-known books, but of no lesser quality because of it. Let me say from the outset that Mr. Puzo is one of those writers that really grab me, personally, with his prose. I can't fully explain it here, but I love the way that man uses words; and as I frequently mention on my book reviews, some authors write in such a simple, rhythmic way that pulls one through the story ever bit as much as the actual plot.
Mario Puzo was, what I think of as, a prose stylist. Not all fiction writers, in my opinion, are. With those others, they set down interesting ideas, to be sure, but its content rather than style that is the important thing with them. With Mr. Puzo and a handful of others, the style makes the substance!
Alright, enough of that! Let's get down to business.
What is the novel, Omerta? How is it put together? What is it trying to do?
Well, this novel is not a thriller, because, as I define the term, Omerta does not feature events presented to us in what I like to call momentous immediacy. What I mean by that is that we are not featured to 'thrills and chills,' and 'a thrill a minute,' and all that. A great deal happens in a little over three-hundred-ten pages (in hardcover), of course; but the events are not presented with a sense of 'crackling intensity' and all that, unlike, perhaps, one would expect with a Dan Brown novel---every single thing that happens is just so darn important, I mean IMPORTANT!
The book is a suspense novel, as I define the term, in the sense that there is a sense of time-urgency involved with the story. What I usually comprehend as suspense is a story in which the protagonist(s) must do something before the sky falls; it is not enough for the hero to do something, he must do it before a window of time closes.
Omerta is a suspense novel to this degree, but not to the degree that many best-selling authors do suspense (i.e., James Patterson); which is to say, althought Mario Puzo's book is a suspense novel, technically, and the time-urgency element does exist, somewhat, Puzo's novel handles this in a rather more relaxed manner, if that makes sense.
If you have never read any of Mario Puzo's fiction, you should know that these two things are characteristic of his work. First, the book is not a thriller, and Mr. Puzo did not write thrillers (not that there's anything wrong with thrillers).
And secondly, he did not often write suspense novels, per se; or, when one of his novels can be technically characterized as such, the disposition of the action is, nevertheless, handled in a far more relaxed manner than is effected by best-selling suspense authors.
The book is not a mystery novel, as I define the term, in that it is simply not a whodunnit. Mario Puzo, generally, did not write mystery novels, not that there's anything wrong with mystery novels.
The book is a crime novel, as I usually define the term, which is: A novel in which the protagonist commits a crime or series of crimes; the question is not who did these things because we know, we are told from the very beginning. The question is if and how he will get away with it. And because the protagonist is the criminal, he or she is usually set up to get our sympathy.
I usually refer to a genre novel that is neither a suspense nor thriller, a crime drama. What I mean by this is that, strictly speaking in my view, the book is disqualified as a 'thriller' because the action is not presented with a sense of momentous immediacy. The book is also disqualified as 'suspense,' as well if the action is not presented with time-urgency---you know, if the hero doesn't have to do something or series of somethings before a specific time window closes.
And also, if the book is disqualified as a 'mystery,' then the only thing left to categorize as is as a crime drama. Here, I used the word 'drama' in its most conventional sense; we get into the complexities of the human experience in many forms in addition to seeing the story fulfill what you might call genre-expectations.
By the way, this third thing is also characteristic of Mario Puzo's work. His books are 'crime' novels, they fulfill classic genre-expectations; they are pure entertainment at times; and, given the qualifications I've mentioned, one finds himself immersed in some of the human experience stuff. It is this quality that has inspired professional critics, from time to time, to call his work 'genre-bending.'
Still, what disqualifies a crime drama as 'suspense' is that there is usually not much question that the protagonist will 'get away with it.' My thoughts are this have not become concrete yet.
One Last Word
As usual, I do not want to give away the plot. I want you to go out and read this book; by the way, given Mr. Puzo's way with words that I alluded to earlier, you may very well find it a very fast-paced read. I know I did. Three-hundred-fifteen pages might only feel like two-fifteen to you; but that is beyond my competence to judge.
Anyhow, this book is about Family: in both the organized crime sense and in the sense of biiological relation; and, as usual with Mr. Puzo's work, we are talking about the same group of people in both phases of the family dynamic.
This book is about Revenge: The still-unbeaten core ingredient for exciting storytelling in everything from Westerns to Mafia to Kung Fu flicks. The story is about revenge: Two hotshot hit men did a dumb thing, succeeded, got the job done, killed the man they wanted to kill, a legendary but supposedly retired Mafia Don---you know, the Most Feared Mafia Don in the United States, and all that.
They two hit men (good-looking, athletic brothers) made a lot of money on that job. But the act had been long-term stupid, as they will find out. They never saw Astorre coming. He's the nephew of the Don, who had spent more than a decade abroad, in Sicily, receiving specialized training to become a Qualified Man, one highly skilled in all the lethal arts of the Cosa Nostra.
He had been set aside for this destiny because of a perceived greatness in the young man, that had been detected in him as a very young boy. The old timers see in him, the spirit of the great Sicilian Mafia lords of old. If and when the time came, he, Astorre, was to be the one to protect the family: in both senses. That is because the conspiracy that had ended in the old Don's assassination would not stop until it had devoured the entire Aprile family, both the underworld organization and the biological clan.
So, that is all I will say about the plot. You should either buy and check this book out of your local library. Remember: Reading is Fundamental.
Thank you so much for reading.
More by this Author
This is our first review of a politically-based book by James Ellroy: The Cold Six Thousand.
This essay is a review of 'The Godfather' Trilogy of novels by Mario Puzo and Mark Weingardner: The Godfather, The Godfather Returns, and The Godfather's Revenge.
This is a short story about John Keep's proposal.
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