A Quiet Vendetta by R.J. Ellory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Having read and reviewed several one-star novels recently, I felt elated when I started reading R J Ellory's "A Quiet Vendetta". The very first sentence of the novel, long and almost faulkneresquely complex, yet meaningful, emotional, and strongly visual, makes it clear that Mr. Ellory is a gifted writer. One of the remaining pleasures in the current phase of my life is to read a book written by someone who writes well. Even if it is not a very good book, which is the case with "A Quiet Vendetta".
The first hundred pages or so are fabulous. The premise of the book is fascinating; alas, I am unable to explain it without spoiling the clever setup. This long novel (over 450 pages) reads like a thriller, though it is much more than that. One of the blurbs on the back cover happens to be truthful: "An epic history of the Italian Mafia in America which [...] has the ring of truth and real research behind it all... [The Guardian]" I have been totally fed up with books about the Mafia, yet I am making an exception here as the story is just a vehicle to study the deeper issues of power, corruption, and the so-called evil.
Unfortunately, the book, being too long, fades quite noticeably past its midpoint or so. Reading good prose is still a pleasure but the curiosity about what will happen next wears out. The ending is not as unexpected as the author would like it to be, which I do not find an issue at all, but it also lacks impact proportional to the strength of the earlier parts, which leaves me with a sense of incompleteness. Further, the clever literary device that provides the pacing of one of the threads of narration (story of the Mafia) eventually feels tedious and overused.
Other than for the writing, I value the novel for pushing some of my buttons; for instance, it portrays several politicians as much lower forms of life than the worst Mafia thugs. About certain president of the United States: "Guy was as crazy as a bug on a hotplate, but he was a politician so we didn't expect much else." I also like how the author makes (fictitious) connections of the novel's plot to well-known people and events of the 20th century. New Orleans is portrayed vividly and the sense of the place comes through. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, though, are mostly just names.
For me, "A Quiet Vendetta" is clearly a case of a three-and-a-half-stars novel. Well, it is an odd-numbered day of the month today so...
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