The Family Corleone, by Edward Falco
The Godfather is without question the epitome of mafia fiction. The film has buried itself so deeply in the collective consciousness of the masses that “an offer you can’t refuse” has become almost a caricature of mob violence. Along with the horse’s head in the bed – apparently an entirely logical reaction to a refused business proposition.
So it was with significant interest that I turned the first page of The Family Corleone. There have been other Godfather novels since Puzo’s original works of course, The Lost Years and The Godfather’s Revenge, both by Mark Winegardner. And whilst this reviewer has read the former of the two and enjoyed it to an extent (a discussion for another day), nothing quite met the atmosphere of the original. But the major claim of this novel is that it draws from a screenplay by Puzo himself, which bodes well from the outset.
To contextualise, The Family Corleone is set during the early to mid thirties. The end of Prohibition is looming, and the Corleone family is as yet a minor player surrounded by stronger organisations. The reader greets the cast like old friends, yet with the pleasure of seeing them all as younger more active men. Vito, Clemenza and Tessio are drawn as the dangerous men they were prior to the “safer” days of the established family in the original novel. These are the days that become the anecdotes of the latter period. When Vito himself would wield the weapons of criminality, before the army of button men and Capo-regimes surrounded him.
As a result, The Family Corleone is a highly enjoyable read. It is often questionable with this kind of novel whether it would stand well on its own two feet, without us having seen the characters themselves on screen. But as far as the entertainment value of the work is concerned, this is entirely irrelevant. Anyone with any passion for Puzo’s characters would be hard pressed not to enjoy seeing this earlier stage of their lives unfold.
This is especially prevalent as we follow two men central to the story – Sonny Corleone and Luca Brasi. Both are obviously well known to us, but there is plenty left to tell. Falco does this to perfection, with Luca’s story especially being an excellent addition to the canon as it fills in many (unpleasant) gaps in his past previously only alluded too. Similarly we enjoy seeing Sonny as a teenager, growing up and into the family business through a somewhat tangential route. Both men end the tale ready to take their place in the familiar narrative, but with considerably more depth than seen previously.
So The Family Corleone does exactly what I hoped it would. It covers a period of history previously only referred to and reported, and it does so convincingly well. Whether it would be half as enjoyable to a reader unfamiliar with all that has gone before is questionable. But if you know the Godfather, and you like mafia fiction, then this book is most certainly worth a look. Which given Puzo’s name is there on the cover, should hardly be an offer you would want to refuse.