Walls Of Silence

Mario Puzo's last bow is curiously unsatisfying.

Unless you've been living in a hole for the past twenty years, you've heard the classic line, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse", first uttered in a novel named "The Godfather" - a novel which went on to become an international sensation, spawn a whole series of films about the Mafia, and influence a generation of movie-goers and movie-makers with its dark and bloody saga of the Cosa Nostra.

The author of that novel was, of course, Mario Puzo - and his latest offering, "Omerta", takes us back to the Sicilian countryside for yet another tale of revenge, betrayal and honour. A much-respected Don is dying in a village near the Mediterranean. On his deathbed, he requests one of his closest friends to take care of his two-year-old son, to spirit him away to America and to protect him from the Don's Sicilian foes.

Years pass, and the Don's son Astorre grows into a strong young man, loved and cherished by his adopted family, and especially by his adopted father, the great Don Aprile, who becomes his mentor and his closest confidante. All is well, until the day Aprile is assassinated as he attends his grandson's confirmation at Saint Patrick's Church. As the police, the FBI and even the Don's old friends show a strange reluctance to track down his father's murderer, Astorre begins his own investigation into the events leading up to his father's death - and uncovers a nest of corruption and greed that threatens to destroy his family.

At one level, "Omerta" reads like a coming-of-age story, the tale of a young boy who grows up to shoulder the responsibilities of being the chief of a Mafia clan, and who uses his power to ruthlessly punish his enemies and reward his friends. At another level, it is a story of loyalty and betrayal, of the Sicilian code of silence and honour known as "omerta", and of the power that money holds over even the strongest family ties.

In Puzo's world, no one is quite as they seem - every character has a hidden agenda, and every act is rife with hidden motives. And this is precisely why "Omerta", though an enjoyable and skillfully-written story, fails to evoke the same emotions as "The Godfather" - treachery and betrayal link arms in a well-practised dance, and the violent ending is a foregone conclusion with nothing in the least surprising about it. Perhaps morality in organized crime really is, as Puzo seems to suggest, nothing more than shades of gray - but gray, as we all know, isn't a very exciting colour...

This article was first published on 12 Jun 2000.