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Before sleeping with the fishes

Before the Corleones, there was the Gestapo. Mario Puzo’s pre-Godfather book is a war thriller, writes Poonam Saxena.

india Updated: Jul 10, 2009 23:47 IST
Poonam Saxena

Everybody knows the late Mario Puzo as the man who wrote the compelling Mafia bestseller, The Godfather (though what most of us remember most vividly, of course, is the even more compelling movie Francis Ford Coppola made on the novel). The book, The Godfather, came out in 1969 — after Puzo had written a couple of other not-very-successful novels.

Now it turns out he wrote yet another book before 1969 (a year earlier, to be precise) which nobody knew about, under the pseudonym, Mario Cleri. Puzo used to write World War II stories for American men’s magazines like True Action under the name of Mario Cleri in the 1950s and 1960s.

Six Graves is also a World War II story. It is about an American captain, Michael Rogan, who is brutally tortured by seven Gestapo officers during the last days of the war. They also murder his pregnant wife and eventually shoot Michael. But Michael doesn’t die. He survives, with only one mission in his life — to seek out the seven men and to kill them all, one by one.

The book is set in a murky, twilight world inhabited by cold-blooded killers, remorseless double-crossers and scheming crooks. The protagonist Michael Rogan and Rosalie, the love interest, are dysfunctional, and doomed characters incessantly haunted by their private demons.

The prose is stark and the book treads the classic — and to be truthful, rather predictable — thriller format as it follows Michael in his single-minded Nazi hunt. But it could leave you with

a sad and bitter aftertaste, because it is set in such a violent world and its characters are so relentlessly tragic. And also because Michael’s agony, which he re-lives constantly, is the central motif of the book.

But it is eminently filmable. All it needs is a Coppola.