THE CORSICAN by William Heffernan
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You can virtually hear the musical theme from The Godfather playing in the background through this so-so imitation: Heffernan does a solid job with the familiar motifs--the family honor, the dynasty passion, the vendetta--before winding down into routine showdown/suspense in the last 200 pages. The Corsican is Buonaparte Sartene, adopted son of a major family in the Corsican business/trading/rackets ""milieu""; when first seen, in 1940, Sartene and his devoted sidekick Auguste are in a French prison--but are released so that they can lead resistance forces north of Marseille. After the war, then, the Corsicans have acquired some booty--and are rewarded by France with resettlement in Laos: Sartene sets up a new (mostly legal) milieu there, with a household that includes son Jean, French daughter-in-law Madeleine, grandson Pierre, ""Uncles"" Auguste and Benito, and young henchman Francesco. Quite soon, then, the Sartenes are obliged to become deeply involved in the opium trade--with the urging and aid of OSS agent Matt Bently: to keep the trade free of Communist control, they take over the opium biz, establishing loyal ties with a tribal leader and forcing the rival Carbone family out of the area. But Francesco, motivated by envy, ambition, and lust (for Madeleine), turns traitor. So, while Sartene is helping the Laotians to form counterguerriila forces against the Communists in the early 1950s, Francesco secretly teams up with the Carbones in a double-assassination scheme--which is half-successful: Jean dies horribly (by snake); Sartene survives but quits the opium trade; Uncle Benito is wounded, paralyzed thereafter; Francesco escapes. And now Sartene's beloved grandson Pierre must (as Madeleine has wished all along) be removed to safety: Madeleine marries Bently, Pierre becomes ""Peter Bently,"" and he grows up in America--remaining devoted to ""Grandpère"" but only learning about the family's real history circa 1966. In the novel's weaker second half, then, Peter is in Saigon with US Intelligence; he knows that he must kill (or be killed by) family-enemy Francesco; he meets two tricky and seductive women, one of whom is a Communist/Francesco ally; and, by investigating the opium biz (full of US Army corruption), he smokes out Francesco for a one-on-one death duel. Heffernan, author of two other uneven thrillers (Broderick, Caging the Raven), efficiently recycles most of the gangster-dynasty clichÉs here--along with bits of Indochina history and atmosphere. (Cf. Loup Durand's The Angkor Massacre, p. 73, for a far richer Indochina fiction--and unromanticized Corsicans.) And though Peter is a faceless hero through the busy, mechanical later chapters, those partial to the crime-family/vengeance genre will find this above-average entertainment--with a slight boost from the OSS/drug angle.

Pub Date: July 13th, 1983
Publisher: Simon & Schuster