A Quiet Vendetta
A “vendetta” is defined as a feud between clans that arises out of a slaying and is perpetuated by retaliatory acts of revenge. Its Latin origins specify Sicilian families in which relatives of a murdered person seek vengeance by killing the murderer or some member of his family.
R.J. Ellory has been referred to as the Stephen King of crime fiction for good reason: “This is criminal psychology you’re talking here.” With each new novel comes a cast of memorable characters and a theme that haunts like Halloween. This is a goosebump-inducing crime novel told by Ernesto Cabrera Perez, the killer of (amongst others) Jimmy Hoffa. Primarily, it is an epic tale of Perez’s life in the Italian Mafia in America and obsessive revenge. Subplots include loyalty, trust and the conflict a detective has with his personal and professional lives.
"This richly researched and incredibly believable novel has more tributaries than the Muddy Mississippi, and causes Ellory to ascend the throne as the king of crime fiction."
When Catherine, the teen daughter of Louisiana Governor Charles Ducane, is kidnapped, there’s no doubt her life is in peril. Her bodyguard turns up as a dead body stuffed into the trunk of a priceless vintage car, his heart carved out and put back in place. Crime boss Antoine Feraud is known simply as Daddy Always. His Mafia-style enterprises began with “rotgut that would strip paint off a car.” Those dubious businesses progressed to influence peddling and tentacles that reach into the governor’s mansion. But he is not enlisted to aid in the investigation. One “doesn’t get to be a governor without greasing some palms and silencing some tongues.”
Originally from New Orleans, a New York detective is summoned back to the Big Easy by Perez, who claims to be the kidnapper. “Bring Ray Hartmann down to New Orleans or Catherine Ducane is irretrievably dead.” Not simple guesswork, as news of the abduction has not been broadcast. Typical of the award-winning author’s style is a flashback that constructs the detective’s psychological profile. Hartmann has an ongoing battle with booze and is now estranged from his wife and teen daughter.
Perez’s profile is a twist --- and twisted. Borne of a Cuban father in New Orleans, his first kill occurs at age 15. Circumstances lead him to Cuba, then Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas and Chicago. Though each notch on his gun moves the hit man up a notch in his adoptive Mafia family, Perez remains an outsider. When tragedy strikes his wife and daughter, sparing only his son, his Mafia family does not seek Sicilian vengeance, but he remains loyal.
Perez is judged by Hartmann as “more animal than human,” but tells Hartmann each chapter of five decades of his life “in small, measured emotional phrases.” And Perez plays each person like a card. He details each murder he’s committed, knowing that he’ll never leave FBI custody. So what’s the motive? “Motive is a personal thing, can never be truly appreciated by another.” Hartmann tells FBI profilers, “This is about Perez’s life, the things he’s done and the people who told him to do them. He’s an old man who’s spent the whole of his life killing people.” In the dénouement, Perez “had earned Hartmann’s respect. Hartmann knew that something that could have been no worse had suddenly deteriorated into a nightmare.”
R.J. Ellory is the author of nine intense crime thrillers published in more than 20 languages. His previous U.S. release was A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE, winner of Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year Award. Combining fact and fiction, he weaves a complex plot with his trademark whydunit, detailing psychological motivations of the killer --- and those who solve the crimes. This richly researched and incredibly believable novel has more tributaries than the Muddy Mississippi, and causes Ellory to ascend the throne as the king of crime fiction.
Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy on January 5, 2012