The Godfather goes Jewish--which doesn't turn out to be a bad idea at all in the thoroughly capable storytelling hands of veteran big-book-maker Weidman. Most, and by far the best, of the tale is the early career of Max Lessing, an Austrian Jew who deserts the First Bohemian Imperial Dragoons in 1919 after assaulting an anti-Semitic officer. On the road to Budapest he acquires a traveling companion, education-hungry little Ida Wawrth (""a born accomplice""), and together--sort of--they make it to Maine via Amsterdam, steerage, forged papers, and the dubious aid of Jewish gangsters. Still other Jewish gangsters (with a rabbi ringleader) help them to cross Quebec and set up a pushcart ""sacramental"" wine business in Minneapolis. When the gangsters make impossible demands on the young couple, they fight back--hard--and win the awed attention of bootlegging baron Harry Boyle, who makes the Lessings his lieutenants, fosterparents to his motherless daughter, and his heirs--just before he's eliminated in a rival-gang auto sabotage. After all this, the period flavor pales and the pace slips a bit, with the Lessings on top, fighting off double-crosses (a near-hit from a London smoothie), scrambling for respectability, and relying for everything on Joe Catalini--another foster-child whom Ida comes to have more than motherly feelings (unrequited) for. And the final crisis (which also supplies a prologue) is a tacky disappointment: tough, stroke-stricken Max in his Florida condominium is blackmailed by his Harvard undergrad grandson, a Gay Libber whose first lover was. . . faithful Joe. Crime does not pay, one supposes, but believable crime is far more entertaining than contrived moralistic endings; luckily, by the time you hit that final snag, you'll have had a good clean romp in sheer survival, ambition, and greed.