The Sicilian: a novel

Guiliano’s belt buckle with lion and eagle on front of “The Sicilian”
The belt buckle is Turi’s

Michael Cordelone, exiled to Sicily at the end of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, is about to return to the US at the beginning of The Sicilian.

His father has ordered Michael to bring Salvatore “Turi” Guiliano to America with him.

Turi has been a bandit in the Robin Hood tradition since his teens. He is idolized by the poor for his opposition those who keep them poor: the government in Rome, the Mafia, the Catholic Church hierarchy, the police.

For seven years, Turi and his band have lived in the mountains, from which they raid and escape. Now Turi’s enemies seem to be joining forces against him.

Why does his father want Michael to help Turi?

How are the police and army getting information about Turi’s movements?

Can Michael get Turi out of the country before his enemies kill him?

Who cares?

Turi and the other characters are about as plausible as paper dolls.

There are a few tidbits of interesting Italian history in The Sicilian but the story is a bore.

Just as he did in Fools Die, his second attempt to recreate the success of The Godfather, in The Sicilian Mario Puzo produces an entirely forgettable novel.

The Sicilian: a novel by Mario Puzo
Linden Press/Simon & Schuster. 1984. 410 p.
1984 bestseller #3. My grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

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The Lonesome Gods

dust jacket background of The Lonesome Gods is desert sunrise scene
Couple at lower right view sunrise

Louis L’Amour’s western adventure The Lonesome Gods is as irresistible as it is implausible.

When readers meet the novel’s hero, Johannes Verne is six years old. His dying father is taking him to California to his only other living relative.

Johannes remembers overhearing his parents say his grandfather hates him. Before he gets to California, he learns that his grandfather hates him enough to leave him to die alone in the desert.

Fortunately, good people take to Johannes instinctively. He’s nurtured by people who have common sense, extensive contacts, wide reading, and loyalty.

At 20, Johannes is a mid-twentieth century silver screen western hero plunked down in 1840s California.

L’Amour lets Johannes narrate the episodes in which he appears and an omniscient narrator relate the others. This technique gives an unwarranted aura of objectivity to implausible people and events.

There’s more than a whiff of Horatio Alger about The Lonesome Gods. Johannes’ friends impress on him the value of education, the importance of knowing how to do business regardless of one’s job, the need to have a goal for what he wants to become as well as for what he wants to do.

L’Amour’s story is forgettable; the advice in it worth remembering.

The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour
Bantam Books. 1983. 450 p.
1983 bestseller #10. My grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Valley of Horses

Cover of “The Valley of Horses” shows Ayla, sling in hand, looking at horses
Ayla’s a whiz with her slingshot

For most of its length, Jean M. Auel’s The Valley of Horses* is two stories about prehistoric Europe.

In the first story,  a young woman who has been turned out of her adoptive home finds an unoccupied cave in a remote valley.

Ayla is tall, blonde, and beautiful, a skilled hunter, healer, and toolmaker.

She tames a wild colt and a great lion cub, but she’d rather have a human mate.

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles away, two human brothers are setting out to explore.

Their journey takes them to a riverside village where Thonolan meets and loses the love of his life.

Despondent, Thonolan packs to leave. Jondalar, fearing for his brother’s mental state, accompanies him, though he’d rather go back home.

After losing their boat and belongings, the brothers end up in the mountains where Thonolan is killed by Ayla’s lion and Jondalar—Did I mention he’s a gorgeous hunk?— is rescued by Ayla.

Valley is full of fascinating, esoteric information about prehistoric life, but Auel’s depictions of primitive men’s use of language is ludicrous. In one paragraph, strangers are bewildered by each other’s grunts; five sentences later they’re discussing fluid dynamics like engineers in a graduate seminar.

I’ve heard more plausible prehistoric male communication up the street at Bob’s Diner.

The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel
Crown. ©1982. 502 p.
1982 bestseller #6. My grade: C

*The Valley of Horses is the second novel in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children™ series (The Clan of the Cave Bear was the first) and the only one of the series to make the 20th century’s bestsellers list.

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Memories of Another Day

Close-up photo of blue eyes is at center of front cover of Memories of Another Day.
The cover art has nothing to do with the novel’s story.

Memories of Another Day is less awful than many of Harold Robbins’s bestsellers.

The story is told in sections alternating between “now” and “memories of another day.”

The memories are better than now.

The story is about Daniel Boone Huggins, a West Virginia hill country kid growing up dirt-poor in the early 1900s.

His father isn’t savvy enough to sell his moonshine for what it’s worth. The family needs cash.

Dan is sent off to find work. He ends up in a coal mine.

Dan’s sister, who had married a union organizer, is killed along with him.

Dan leaves West Virginia a confirmed union man.

Dan is a typical Robbins hero. Smart and incorruptible, he’s a hard-drinking stud, pursued by every woman who sees him.

He has a son, Daniel Jr., by one wife, and another, Jonathan, by a second wife who is younger than Dan Jr.

After Dan Sr. dies, Jonathan, 17, full of adolescent rebellion against his father, inexplicably goes off to find his father’s roots.

The memories of Big Dan’s labor union organizing experiences are riveting.

The tale of Jonathan’s getting in touch with his father’s legacy is absurd.

Memories of Another Day by Harold ROBBINS
Simon and Schuster, ©1979. 491 p.
1979 bestseller #04 My grade: B

 

The Matarese Circle

Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will hold your attention to the final full stop.

Black background of dust jacket sets off white type and circular blue mark of The Matarese.
The blue mark identifies Matarese members .

The lead characters are an American spy, Brandon Scofield, and his Soviet counterpart, Vasili Taleniekov.

The two are deadly enemies. Scofield holds Taleniekov responsible for his wife’s death; Taleniekov blames Scofield for killing his brother in retaliation.

When the Russian stumbles upon a secret organization that’s financing terrorists around the world, he can’t discern the Matarese’s motive, but he knows the Matarese must be stopped.

To stop them, Taleniekov has to get Scofield to work with him.

Both men are the best in their respective nations’ intelligence communities.

Both are considered mavericks.

Both are tired.

Both are beginning to doubt that their lives’ work has made any difference.

Once they agree to cooperate, the pair go to Corsica where the Matarese is legendary but never spoken of to outsiders and not often mentioned among Corsicans.

Whispers suggest the organization dates from the eleventh century.

Intelligence services know the Matarese provided assassins for hire until the 1930s.

No one knows what they are doing in the 1970s

Ludlum spins a good yarn.

The unlikely collaborators deal the Matarese a death blow.

Or do they?

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, ©1979. 601 p.
1979 bestseller #01 My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Dreams Die First

Dreams Die First is another of Harold Robbins’ raunchy tales about sex to fit all tastes.

“Dreams Die First” cover features a woman's breasts, nipples tastefully concealed.
Cover art is most tasteful part of Dreams Die First.

The story is about Gareth Brendan, Vietnam vet, doing nothing rather unsuccessfully in California when his rich, powerful uncle offers him control of an underground newspaper.

Gareth had tried writing: No one would buy his stuff.

Now his unemployment has run out.

He takes the offer.

Gareth finds he has an aptitude for sleaze.

He goes from the newspaper, to a magazine called Macho which features the “supercunt of the month.”

From there he expands into “Lifestyle” publications and clubs not just for men interested in women.

He’s about to take his company public (I inadvertently typed pubic instead of public. I’ve been reading too much Robbins.) when the operation falls apart.

No worries.

There’s a happy ending.

Despite his reliance on drugs and alcohol, his violence, and his general stupidity, Gareth is a peach of a guy.

Women love him.

Men, including a prominent California clergyman, love him.

The only people who don’t love him are the FBI, the Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department, Scotland Yard, and the Condor Group of the Mexican Police.

And me.

P.S. I’m not too fond of Harold Robbins either.

Dreams Die First by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster, ©1977. [paper] 408 p.
1977 bestseller #6. My grade: D-

The Deep: Inexperience leads to trouble

Jaws author Peter Benchley returned to the bestseller list in 1976 with The Deep, a more exotic and less frightening novel.

Dust jacket cover of "The Deep" shows sky and sea in dark shades of blue.
A woman in a bikini is in The Deep.

Newly-weds David and Gail Sanders have come to Bermuda to do some diving. Both have done some diving, but neither is experienced enough to know how to keep out of trouble.

On their first dive, they find several items that appear to have come the shipwrecked Goliath, including a small glass ampule containing liquid. No one can—or will—tell them what it might be, but someone claiming to be a glass collector offers them $50 for the ampule.

They won’t sell: They don’t like his attitude.

They seek help from Romer Treece, a local wreck recovery expert with long experience and scant patience with inexperienced know-it-alls like David.

Treece discovers their finds are authentic and dangerous: The cargo on the Goliath is worth millions to the wrong people.

As he did in Jaws, Benchley infuses his thriller with information. Here, through Treece, he talks about everything from the habits of moray eels to 18th century Spanish history and techniques for researching shipwrecks.

And through Treece, Benchley tells know-it-alls like David how to grow up:

A lot of people want to prove something to themselves, and when they do something they think’s impressive, then they’re impressed themselves. The mistake is, what you do isn’t the same as what you are. …

The feeling’s a lot richer when you do something right, when you know something has to be done and you know what you’re doing, and then you do something hairy.

The Deep by Peter Benchley
Doubleday, 1976. 301 p.
1976 bestseller #5. My grade: A-