by Mark Winegardner
Writing the sequel to one of the all-time bestselling novels in publishing history is a tall order. Yet that is the task Winegardner faced after he was chosen by publisher Random House as the successor to the late Mario Puzo in 2003. The Godfather Returns picks up in 1955 (after the events of the first movie), when Michael Corleone struggles to maintain a fragile ceasefire between the warring crime families. He wants to legitimize the family and get out of the killing business, but to achieve this he has to leave a few bodies along the way.
Winegardner is a gifted storyteller who expands Puzo's plot artfully into the history of Michael's feud with his brother Fredo and the installation of a Mob-friendly, JFK-like President. But Mafia stories have moved on; today's wiseguys have therapists and SUVs, and the old codes and rituals seem quaint. Still, there is only one famiglia Corleone, and Winegardner fits in much better than Michael's now estranged wife, Kay, ever did.