Review

The Road to Purgatory

by Max Allan Collins



Michael O'Sullivan has been living these past years under another
name: Michael Satariano. Adopted from the orphanage that Eliot Ness
managed to get him placed into after the murder of his father,
Michael grew up trying to put the past behind him. He went off to
serve his county in the Second World War, only to find that the
skills he learned while on the road with his father, such as his
ability to kill when it has to be done, have been awakened and
built upon. He fights valiantly, losing an eye but gaining a Medal
of Honor (he's the first to win one in the war) and a ticket off
Bataan. He still wants to serve --- he can fire a gun, even with
one eye missing --- but Uncle Sam seems to have other ideas.

At first he obediently goes along with the plans, but his
insistence about speaking out against the government pulling out of
Bataan, leaving his fellow fighters behind, loses him his active
status. Ness, calling him in, offers to get it back, if he goes
undercover. The Capone organization has changed since Al went to
jail. They've made mistakes, and Frank Nitti, the boss in Al's
place who is still supposedly taking orders from the man who now
lives in Florida, might be ripe for the fall. Michael is eager to
join. His own father went to Capone for help in his vendetta
against the men responsible for the death of his wife and Michael's
little brother, but instead Capone ordered his death. When he gets
next to Nitti, he finds that he might be the lesser of two evils;
the man set to take over is a much harder, greedier person. Soon
he's trying to figure out where his loyalties lie and how he can
stay true to himself while being drawn deeper and deeper into a
life that you only leave feet first.

We do have a break in the story to revisit Michael, Sr. This would
be an interesting short story in itself, but it has some parallels
to the main story that serve to underline what his son is going
through. Like Michael, Jr., Michael, Sr. works for a man who treats
him like a son. Unlike his own son, he joined because he was
desperate to make a good life, and the deeper he gets into the
organization, the better the life he has. In both stories, Collins
makes a point of saying that individuals such as Capone and John
Looney seemed like good people, just giving the working man a
chance to have a drink. They also gave immigrants --- Irish, in
Looney's case --- an opportunity to succeed in the new world, a
place that can be very unforgiving. Both Nitti and Looney treat the
O'Sullivans very well and are rewarded --- though tempered, in
Michael, Jr.'s case --- with loyalty. As in the main story, we also
see that there are people involved who do not dance in the gray
area; they undoubtedly are bad people who use their position to
gratify their worst desires.

THE ROAD TO PURGATORY mixes the excitement of 1940s mafia life with
realism. There are stretches where Michael doesn't have to do
anything, and his life is fairly normal. Though we don't experience
these moments much, they do act as a lull for Michael, making it
easy for him to ignore the reality of where he is. But when the
time comes for him to fight, he doesn't hesitate. He is, genuinely,
a good man. He avoids the woman he loves, his high school
sweetheart, because he doesn't want to involve her in his world,
but he does treat well the lady who he takes up with. He is, for
the most part, honorable; he's not perfect --- far from it --- but
like his father, he has decency at his core. And this book
illustrates how a good person can find himself on a road that he
simply cannot pull off of.

Fascinating and well-researched, THE ROAD TO PURGATORY gives a true
feel for the time while making readers wonder what they would do in
the two situations presented here. The answers are not easy.

Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer on January 23, 2011

The Road to Purgatory
by Max Allan Collins

  • Publication Date: December 1, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • ISBN-10: 0060540311
  • ISBN-13: 9780060540319