by Mario Puzo

Random House


316pp/$25.95/July 2000


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

As with Mario Puzo's earlier Mafia novels, The Godfather and The Last Don, Omerta examines the attempt of a Mafia Don to turn his back on the vengeance, bloodshed and traditions of Sicily in an attempt to fit in to mainstream American society at the end of the twentieth century.  Unlike Don Vito Corleone or Don Domenico Clericuzio, Don Raymonde Aprile has more success in his aspirations.

The key to Don Raymonde's success is Astorre Viola, the son of Don Vincenzo Zeno.  When Don Vincenzo lay dying, he playing his infant son into Don Raymonde's care.  Realizing that if his own children were to be able to lead exemplary lives they would need a protector, even if they didn't know it, Don Raymonde raised Astorre to fill that role, taking him on annual vacations to Sicily and raising him with the traditions of the Sicilian mafia.

Several years after Don Raymonde survived an FBI investigation and went legitimate, he is assassinated following his grandson's Communion.  While his children believe in the ability of the authorities to bring his murderers to justice, Astorre realizes the time has come for him to step into the role Don Raymonde spent so much time training him for.  Astorre begins to plot vengeance for Don Raymonde's murder and protection for his children.

However, Puzo brings many threads together in order to make this a stronger novel than just another tale of the Mafioso.  Don Raymonde, while following the traditions of Sicily, is a devout Catholic who has managed to balance his beliefs in vengeance with beliefs in the Church.  His daughter Nicole, a highly successful lawyer who works to oppose the death penalty attempts to demonstrate to her father that his various beliefs should be mutually exclusive.

Contrasting to the morals of Astorre and the other Mafioso Puzo describes is the upright FBI agent, Kurt Cilke, whose life's work is to destroy the Mafia in New York.  He has succeeded with the exception of Don Timmona Portella and Don Raymonde, although the latter has managed a semi-successful retirement.  Puzo does a masterful job of building the reader's sympathy for both Cilke and Astorre, despite the fact that the two men are antagonists to each other.

Astorre's other nemesis in Omerta is a syndicate of men from South America and Sicily who wish to take control of the banks he inherited from Don Raymonde in order to use them to launder money.  Believing them to be the force behind Don Raymonde's murder, he refusing to cooperate, placing himself in opposition to the syndicate as well as the FBI, which had hoped to use their purchase of the banks in their attempt to capture them.

While Omerta does not live up to Puzo's attempts to deal with the Mafia in The Godfather, The Sicilian or The Last Don, it is still a book which the reader will enjoy and which will raise interesting issues about our society.  In some ways, it reads like a draft, published without Puzo's final writing.  Many of the characters and events feel as if they are only sketched out rather than imbued with the depth that Puzo has given in previous novels.  Nevertheless, Omerta is a final novel which Puzo would not have been embarrassed to see published.

Purchase this book in hardcover from Amazon Books.

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