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The Godfather Returns [Mass Market Paperback]

Mark Winegardner
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 30 2005

Thirty-five years ago, Mario Puzo’s great American tale, The Godfather, was published, and popular culture was indelibly changed. Now, in The Godfather Returns, acclaimed novelist Mark Winegardner continues the story–the years not covered in Puzo’s bestselling book or in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic films.

It is 1955. Michael Corleone has won a bloody victory in the war among New York’s crime families. Now he wants to consolidate his power, save his marriage, and take his family into legitimate businesses. To do so, he must confront his most dangerous adversary yet, Nick Geraci, a former boxer who worked his way through law school as a Corleone street enforcer, and who is every bit as deadly and cunning as Michael. Their personal cold war will run from 1955 to 1962, exerting immense influence on the lives of America’s most powerful criminals and their loved ones, including

Tom Hagen, the Corleone Family’s lawyer and consigliere, who embarks on a political career in Nevada while trying to protect his brother;

Francesca Corleone, daughter of Michael’s late brother Sonny, who is suddenly learning her family’s true history and faces a difficult choice;

Don Louie Russo, head of the Chicago mob, who plays dumb but has wily ambitions for muscling in on the Corleones’ territory;

Peter Clemenza, the stalwart Corleone underboss, who knows more Family secrets than almost anyone;

Ambassador M. Corbett Shea, a former Prohibition-era bootlegger and business ally of the Corleones’, who wants to get his son elected to the presidency–and needs some help from his old friends;

Johnny Fontane, the world’s greatest saloon singer, who ascends to new heights as a recording artist, cozying up to Washington’s power elite and maintaining a precarious relationship with notorious underworld figures;

Kay Adams Corleone, who finally discovers the truth about her husband, Michael–and must decide what it means for their marriage and their children and

Fredo Corleone, whose death has never been fully explained until now, and whose betrayal of the Family was part of a larger and more sinister chain of events.

Sweeping from New York and Washington to Las Vegas and Cuba, The Godfather Returns is the spellbinding story of America’s criminal underworld at mid-century and its intersection with the political, legal, and entertainment empires. Mark Winegardner brings an original voice and vision to Mario Puzo’s mythic characters while creating several equally unforgettable characters of his own. The Godfather Returns stands on its own as a triumph–in a tale about what we love, yearn for, and sometimes have reason to fear . . . family.

From the Hardcover edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When Random announced that Winegardner, best known for the critically acclaimed mainstream saga Crooked River Burning and baseball novel The Veracruz Blues, had been hired to write a fresh Godfather novel, eyebrows arched from coast to coast. But the decision was right: this is a phenomenally entertaining, psychologically rich saga that spans the entire Godfather years imagined in novel and film by Mario Puzo (the latter via his screenplays), filling in the blanks, fleshing out the characters, focusing primarily on the time (mid 1950s-early '60s) between when Puzo's landmark novel ended and the film Godfather II begins.Few remember that Puzo began his career as a commercially failed but critically celebrated literary novelist. He wrote The Godfather with the aim of hitting bestseller lists, but his earlier training showed in that novel's reach and complexity. Just so, Winegardner brings enormous talent to bear on this popular story and its immense cast of characters, deepening Puzo's work at nearly every step. Fredo Corleone, hapless Mafia scion, emerges here as a more central, vigorous and conflicted character than in The Godfather or even the films, as do Tom Hagen (the Corleones' adopted son and erstwhile consigliere) and Johnny Fontane, Puzo's dig at Frank Sinatra. There are many new and newly fleshed out characters as well, from assorted Mob bosses (most notably Chicago's Don Louie Russo, aka Fuckface, spiritual descendant of Al Capone, and Nick Geraci, a Corleone man destined to become the Corleones' arch-enemy) to various Corleones (most notably the slain Sonny Corleone's twin daughters). There are also sharply drawn cameos of, among others and by other names, JFK, RFK and, fleetingly, Andy Warhol. But at the center of the mesmerizing, sometimes dizzying Mob conspiracies and familial tensions is, of course, the Godfather, Michael Corleone—proper heir to Vito Corleone, the last capo di tutti capi: devious, brilliant, astonishing ruthless.The book isn't perfect—just nearly so. The enormity of Winegardner's reimagining of Puzo's epic can obscure the novel's overarching story line—Michael's attempt to legitimize the Corleones' businesses—and leads at times to an episodic feel. These, however, are quibbles in the face of a wholly absorbing novel that's written beautifully, with great skill and passion. Godfather fans will love this tale; Puzo himself must be raising a celestial glass and shouting a hearty "Salut'!" Let it be known that Winegardner, for his respect to the novel's antecedents and for his accomplishment, shall henceforth be known as a Man of Honor.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Winegardner's sequel to The Godfather is a fitting tribute to Puzo's darkly comic, bravura storytelling, paying due respect to the mythic grandeur of the Corleones in an engrossing saga that ranges from the corridors of power to the catacombs of Palermo. It should be a big earner. Focusing on the five years between the end of Puzo's novel and the opening of Coppola's Godfather II, Winegardner fills a vast canvas with historical flourishes and likenesses. A-bomb tests wow rooftop swingers in Vegas, where Sinatra makes his comeback as a mature balladeer and chafes at his Cosa Nostra ties even while using them to help elect Kennedy. In the foreground, new and familiar figures negotiate, plot, and counterplot with all the vigor, panache, and dexterity of Shakespeare's Richard III. Pathetic Fredo plummets recklessly toward his fate, tormented by secret shame, while soldato Nick Geraci whistles his way through the valley of death. Stoic Tom Hagen vies for the banal evils of elected office, and Sonny's daughter Francesca revisits the sins of her father. Running like a chill down the spine of this sprawling narrative is the silent menace of Michael, a consummate Machiavelli forged by war and thwarted by peace. Dripping with blood and cappuccino, this meaty, charismatic epic of hard-won power, lost honor, and grim brio deserves a hearing from Puzo's legion of fans. Highly recommended. David Wright
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A letdown Sept. 22 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I bought this book at the start of a vacation to Vegas and thought it would be a great read. I found it a disappointment. What could have been a great story line - the Geraci revenge against Michael Corleone - is weakly put forward. What kills the intensity are the the innumerable sidetracks to the main story. So many pages for so little result! I didn't find any character in the story I thought could be interesting, except maybe for Clemenza. My trip to Vegas was great. This book was not!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat interesting but not great June 19 2005
By A Customer
I've been a loyal fan of the Godfather saga, in print and on screen, for many years. I was really looking forward to this novel, but it's a disappointment. It's not terrible, just not great. One does get a sense that the author did not research the novel and films as carefully as he might have. To give just one example, a great deal is made in this book that Carlo Rizzi, whose murder occurs at the end of the initial Godfather film and novel, has "disappeared" and that none of his immediate family knows what has happened to him, whereas it's abundantly clear to any reader or viewer that Connie knows Michael had him killed. I think the problem is that Winegardner tries to hard to "fill in the gaps" of the novel and films timeline. One clear, consistent story line would have been a better way to go, preferably filling in the years between Parts II and III of the films.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Really not good Dec 19 2004
By A Customer
This is not a great addition to the Godfather saga and this book should not have been written. There are inconsistencies with the Puzo book and the two movies. For example:
(1) The behaviour of Fredo is not consistent in this book with the movies and the previous book,
(2) The reasons behind Fredo betraying Michael in this book are bizarre and not very well thought out. In fact, it barely even involves Hyman Roth and Johnny Oela. The author introduces a totally new character into this betrayal (Garaci).
(3) Michael's betrayal of Don Molinari is not logical and not something I believe that he would do.
(4) Kay's timing and reasons for leaving Michael are inconsistent with the movie Godfather II.
(5) This author changed Kay's abortion into a miscarriage that she lied to Michael about as an abortion. This is not a good story twist because the whole abortion thing was critical to the storyline in Godfather II. In fact in the movie GFII, Kay says to Michael that she initially lied to him about it being a miscarriage but really she had an abortion. That's when Michael tells her she can leave but not take the children. In this book it is the opposite. Kay tells him she lied about it being an abortion just to see how he would react, but really it was a miscarriage. Did this author even bother to see the movies?
(6) This author claims Michael dropped out of Columbia. I am not sure but believe that at the end of GF II, the movie shows a flashback seen in which Michael says he is dropping out of college and Tom claims his father went to a lot of trouble to pull connections to get him into Fordham (not Columbia).
(7) There is no Frank Pantangali character to take over Clemenza's regime when he dies.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.6 out of 5 stars  162 reviews
62 of 72 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Corleones aren't the only thieves. Dec 30 2004
By Brian in LA - Published on
After having been first excited and then disappointed by Godfather III, I approached this book with what I thought was a healthy dose of skepticism. The dose was not healthy enough.

By page 7, Winegardner has already stolen from Goodfellas when describing how Ace Geraci (Winegardner's creation) took over legitimate businesses and used them to have deliveries "stream through the front door and go straight out the back." And then when the bills came to the business, Geraci torches the business. This is almost exactly what happened to the bar in which Henry Hill and his cohorts took an interest.

I should have stopped reading then, but I didn't.

As some other reviewers have written, the "explanation" of Fredo is simply absurd. Had Winegardner ever read The Godfather or seen any of the movies? Nothing in any of the previous works even hints at Fredo being gay or dabbling in acting. Also with "the new and improved" Fredo, we find yet another bit of pilfering from a Scorsese/Pileggi collaboration. Winegardner has Fredo host his own television show from the Corleone's casino in Las Vegas. Didn't we already see that with Ace Rothstein in Casino? Lastly re Fredo, what's the big deal with the cemetery scheme? This is the big explanation as to why he betrayed Michael? Please.

And speaking of "please," Congressman Tom Hagen? Why? Again, why? Where on earth did this come from? Wouldn't someone have made a passing remark about this in either of the last two films? Why put this in? It makes zero sense.

Winegardner also wields his pen to bring the dead back to life, and for what reason, I cannot understand. At the end of The Godfather, Michael clearly has eliminated the other heads of the Five Families. These would include Cuneo and Stracci. Michael even tells of their deaths (among others) to Carlo Rizzo when he gets Rizzo to admit to being part of Barzini's plot to kill Sonny. But, ho! Suddenly, the reader finds both Cuneo and Stracci very much alive, and in roles which could have been filled by characters with other names.

But Winegardner's talents don't stop with raising the dead or butchering well established characters. He also completely eliminates a pivotal character from the second Godfather movie, Frank "Frankie Five Angels" Pentageli. It was Pentangeli who took over for Clemenza. It was Pentangeli who was responsible for Michael having to testify before the US Senate. It was Pentageli's war with the Roasato brothers that was integral to Michael's struggle with Hyman Roth. Yet Winegardner never mentions Pentangeli.

He also allows only a handful of words for the Rosato brothers. In Godfather II Pentageli alludes to the fact that the Rosato brothers had something to do with Clemenza's death, that "that was no heart attack." Yet, again, Winegardner thinks he's more entertaining than Puzo and makes the cause of Clemenza's death... a heart attack. Couldn't he have used any effort to try to use the loose threads from Puzo to weave into his story?

Of course, Winegardner does make the effort to use his present employer, Florida State University, as a setting. Well, at least he has his priorities straight.

I could go on further, but suffice it to say that this book is grossly insulting to anyone who is a fan of mario Puzo's fine works.

I did say fan and not fanatic. Yes, there are many of us who are quite familiar with the original book and the three films. Perhaps we know too much about them. However, Winegardner, in taking on the role of steward of this classic American saga, should have taken the time and made the effort to familiarize himself with these works, and not thought he was better or smarter than their creator.
41 of 51 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars stick to the original - ignore Winegardner's version Jan. 4 2005
By Benjamin M. Miller - Published on
I would give this less than one star if I could.

I was torn when I first saw this book. On the one hand, Mario Puzo wrote a master piece and another author should not just ride his coat tails. But I saw that Winegardner had written a number of other books, and figured he handled this task with the necessary class and research to write the book properly.

Unfortunately I was wrong.

A minor detail, in his acknowledgments he does not even acknowledge Puzo. Also, I found myself wondering when I was on page 300, where was this going. The author had not really developed a new story of any kind. He seemed to be obsessed with sex, and added it to the story when it did not have to be there. Fredo for some reason has become gay, even though his affection for waitresses is well known from the first movie.

Most offensive there are a number of discrepencies between Winegardner's book and Mario Puzo's and the movies. All are minor but in writing such a book, the author should know the movies and the book inside and out. Winegardner did not.

I will admit that I did not finish reading the book. Around page 330 or so, I threw the book across the room in disgust. Winegardner had decided to write that Kay really did not have an abortion, that it was a miscarriage. This was the last straw for me. Winegardner decided to take one of the most powerful scenes from the movie and change it. I could not accept this and had finally had enough.

This is a lazy effort by Winegardner. He throws in a lot of new names and adds plots with Cleveland, Chicago, LA, but never really lets us know any of these new characters or plots. He throws in a lot of lines from the movies, and it is always akward. There is no Frank Pentangeli, no real detail provided for any of the questions that are left by the gaps in the movie. The writer handled how Fredo was set up against his brother in a few paragraphs, without even involving Hyman Roth. The author has Fredo Corleone doing his tv show two days before his death? Is this believable.

I would run away from this book, and if someone gave it to me, I would give it back. Do not waste your time. Read Mario Puzo. Go see the movies. Other than the title and some of the characters, this book by Winegardner has nothing in common with The Godfather.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly the thunderbolt.... Jan. 4 2005
By nom-de-nick - Published on
While Godfather Returns isn't a useless book by any means, it's not a great one either. Don't misunderstand; it's an OK read that keeps you turning the pages (albeit a little slowly). The writing isn't bad, and while the story jumps around a bit, it's definitely followable. And some of the small allusions to various events in the original book/films were pretty well done.

The problem is one any author would have to seriously consider at the outset; if you're going to write a continuation or fill-in on something as permanently embedded into the American film and book psyche as The Godfather, you need to be absolutely, positively dead-on certain on each and every detail, or you'll instantly lose credibility. You also need to try to channel ahead a bit to see if plot changes, additions or twists are really necessary to the story as a whole (story meaning the entire GF saga). To that end, Winegardner slips several times. First off, and to rehash a little what others have said, missing details such as where Michael went to school or where he shot McClusky or the fact that Michael WAS indeed already born when Vito shot Fanucci or Francesca marrying another boy, or the fact that Frank Pentangeli was altogether left out, as was one of Connie's fiances, may SEEM insignificant, but they're really not. They're crucial to the entire story remaining intact. To miss such points shows, at best, carelessness on the author's and/or editor's part and at worst, a lack of respect for the existing works. Let's not even discuss Kay's "miscarriage" or the fact that two Dons killed at the end of GF One were suddenly alive again. That was just plain sloppy. (And to quickly correct what one reviewer said, the book was NOT just a continuation of the Godfather book, but the films, too. Check the timeline Winegardner provides)

That being said, the book, as I said, does kind of manage to hold its own in most places. And while I really had no trouble with the Michael in this book being a little different that the Michael we all know (he was actually somewhat closer to the Michael in GF 3), there were other areas of the book that seemed almost pointless. First, some characters based on real-life people were far too thinly veiled; it's a work of fiction, y'know? Fiction means "created." Use at least a little imagination. He might have just as well used their actual names -- JFK, Sinatra, Lawford, etc. It added nothing at all.

Second, while Fredo's bisexuality was an unexpected twist, it added absolutely nothing to the plot or storyline, other than a highly convoluted way for Geraci to set someone up. Further, it's out of synch for Fredo altogether, based on the existing character we know. He never exhibited any tendencies leaning that way. None. His hosting a local TV show was far easier to believe and accept. That actually fit him, if you think about it.

Third, while the whole Francesca/Billy thing was interesting, it, again, added nothing. I understand the point Winegardner was ultimately trying to make about Francesca, but it could've been done a hell of a lot quicker and far less complex. And there was inconsistency with the film.

Fourth, it was painfully obvious a sequel is coming.

In all, a tepid book that could've been red-hot.
60 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT CONCEPT For And Execution (no pun) Of A Spinoff Nov. 28 2004
By Joel L. Gandelman - Published on
Egads, I've jumped into a hornet's nest on this one, but I have to be frank: I LOVED THIS BOOK.

I loved Puzo's original Godfather book. The first two Godfather films (I will politely skip over the third) are among my top favorite films. Plus, I'm a huge fan of The Sopranos, own (and reviewed) The Soporanos book of scripts, the Sopranos cookbook.

Yes, I read the tepid reviews about this book, but I wanted to see for myself what the latest attempt to keep the saga alive entailed. And I was PLEASANTLY SURPRISED -- in fact, I could not put this movie down -- given some (but not all) of the reviews in newspapers and here on Amazon. Here's why:

1)Stylistically, it's a fun book to read. There are very few spots where it lags.

2) The main concept seems to be to plug in all of the holes that exist in the first book plus the first two movies. So some things that simply happen are more completely -- and masterfully - filled in.

3)Portray of Michael is right on target with the books and films.

4) Sinatra fans (and I am one of them) may not be too pleased (I gave the author a pass on this one) because Johnny Fontaine is expanded upon as a character, with a story line directly adapted from the real story about allegations involving Sinatra's ties to the Mafia, the Kennedys, his career revival with the legendary Nelson Riddle, and his ultimate disappointment by being shunned by JFK, who he worked so hard to elect.

5) A JFK surrogate character also runs throughout the book, with a story line tied to what happened in the JFK administration...even a quickie hint at why (in the context of the story) JFK would later be assasinated.

6)Fredo: He's a major character in this book. A lot of gaps are filled in that help explain a lot about this character and, again, the author manages to have it all coincide with the original book and the two classic films.

So I have to say: I didn't read this expecting the author to channel Puzo. I bought and read it because I love the Godfather and was prepared to read a chapter or two, then sell the book on Amazon marketplace. Instead, I read it and finished it while visiting relatives in Florida and am gifting it to my brother.

I don't generally get through all nonfiction. This one was easy, enjoyable -- and a MUST for Godfather and Sopranos fans.
31 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Attempt at Sleeping with the Fishes Nov. 17 2004
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on
The daunting task of writing a sequel to Mario Puzo's classic "The Godfather" rests squarely on the shoulders of a writer who won a contest run by Random House, the book's publisher. From this unpromising true-life scenario comes a novel that is well crafted and only marginally disappointing when it comes to its built-in expectations. A writer, even one as obviously talented as Mark Winegardner, unfortunately starts in a creative deficit when his one overriding responsibility amounts to not only supplementing but expanding upon as singular a vision as Puzo's original telling of the Corleone family saga. These characters are so ingrained in the American consciousness that Winegardner's immediate priority is to deal with the burden of remaining faithful to a classic. In a way that highlights the selectiveness of our collective memory, "The Godfather" invented the Mafia, endowing it with a mandolin-strumming legend and pinkie ring-kissing ritual even the actual Mafia didn't know was there.

The story picks up the Corleone story in 1955 right after Michael has proven his mettle among New York's most powerful crime families, and now he wants to claim legitimacy for his family business. So obsessed is he for respect, Michael becomes more and more isolated as a character, and unfortunately, the lack of inner conflict doesn't make for a very dramatic arc since he doesn't undergo any significant transformation in the story. I believe this sort of evolution is what made the first book and its film version resonate. The author instead focuses Michael's attention externally on his deteriorating relationship with Fredo, the weak brother whom we already know is no match for him. In fact, Winegardner fills in a lot of the blanks about Fredo making him a bisexual psychopath who hosts a TV show. He also introduces a street informer named Nick Geraci, who is set up as not only a vengeful competitor but also the yang to Michael's yin. These mostly parallel tracks are interspersed with less important stories that still effectively add texture to the novel - Fredo's efforts to start a cemetery business in New Jersey, the power struggle the Corleones experience in taking over Las Vegas and the West Coast, the incendiary role the family plays in trying to oust Castro from Cuba. Even Johnny Fontane, the veiled alter-ego of Frank Sinatra, comes back in this sequel, as does sister Connie who has become a pretentious jet-setter (instead of the Lady Macbeth figure in Part III of the movie trilogy). Indeed, as with the movie sequels, this book dramatically shows how family dynasties destroy themselves over time.

The main problem with the book has nothing to do with Winegardner's robust writing and everything to do with the iconic status of the Francis Ford Coppola films, even the lackluster third installment. When the author provides his own creative invention to such familiar characters, he seems like he's cheating somehow, veering off course simply because we already feel we know what happened to these characters from the movies. Of course, the comparison to Coppola's grand, operatic epics is unfair but inevitable. Taken on its own terms, however, this is a pretty strong sequel to the potboiler that Puzo's 1969 novel really was - fast, suspenseful, often baroque and lurid. It captures the pulp fiction pitch of the first book without the self-importance attached to the movie version. No small feat. If you can escape this comparison, you'll find this book a very worthwhile read.
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