Portrait of the Artist

Fools Die

by Mario Puzo
Putnam's, 572 pp., $12.50

Mario Puzo
Mario Puzo; drawing by David Levine

Most schinck fiction in the last decade or so has been voycuristic—glimpses in to Hollywood, rock musicians, the jet set, corrupt politicians, replete with drugs, kinky sex, casual violence, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, of which more copies than the Bible have been in print during the last five years, lets us peep at the Mafia, as good a subject as any for this kind of thing. Most people who read it agreed that while yes, it was awful, it made a decent deal with its reader because it offered glimpses of Mafia life that were convincing and maybe even authentic. At the outset of Fools Die one seems to be in for much of the same. The scene is Las Vegas, a world any voyeur might want to have a look at.

Calmly and without emotion Jordan hit twenty-four-straight passes. By the eighth pass the railing around the baccarat table was crowded and every gambler at the table was betting Bank, riding with luck. By the tenth pass the croupier in the money slot reached down and pulled out the special five-hundred-dollar chips. They were a beautiful creamy white threaded with gold.

Cully was pressed against the rail, watching. Diane standing with him. Jordan gave them a little wave. For the first time he was excited. Down at the other end of the table a South American gambler shouted, “Maostro,” as Jordan hit his thirteenth pass. And then the table became strangely silent as Jordan pressed on.

It is scenario writing, leaving Puzo or someone else little to do when turning Fools Die into a screenplay.

It is good, too, to have the man who hits the twenty-four straight passes win over $400,000 in one night and then go upstairs and shoot himself—that is what one wants in schlock fiction. Intermittently thereafter Puzo comes back to Vegas and, tells us about how a big gambling hotel is run, how seams are discovered, how you can identify the true from the phony hustlers:

And Gronevelt knew that the true hustler had to have his spark of humanity, his genuine feeling for his fellowman, even his pity of his fellowman. The true genius of a hustler was to love his mark sincerely. The true hustler had to be generous, compassionately helpful and a good friend.

Hemingway and the bulls all over again, in bloated and repetitive prose. And as we should expect, the sex that goes with it is wholly without sensuality.

As they went on, Cully rose from the bed and sat in one of the chaire. The two women were becoming more and more passionate. He watched their bodies flow around and up and down each other until there was a final climaxing of violent thrashing and the two women lay in each other’s arms quiet and still.

The late show for Cully, a true…

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