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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Tommygun Titan (Max Allan Collins' Road to Purgatory)




My introduction to Max Allan Collins was his graphic novel, Road to Perdition. As popular as that one is, I consider this one much better.

Let me get the blemishes out of the way, first (my nitpicking self just can't help it): Though the author obviously knows more than I about mob/mafia history, he blundered the facts a little in the Bataan segment...AND pushed the limits of believability maybe a wee bit too far.

Michael Satariano (AKA Michael Sullivan) is a troubled soul who, superficially, seems to be the perfect all-American hero. But his dark, troubled past makes it impossible for him to accept the pedestal. He is what Bruce Wayne would be like in real life (without the money). Like the Batman's alter-ego, he lost his family at a young age in a violent, traumatic fashion, to murderous criminals--and he thirsts for vengeance.

The story opens on the Philippines prior to MacArthur's evacuation. Michael's heroism and combat prowess (dwarfing that of the Transporter and the most outlandish John Woo protagonists) win him the 1st Medal of Honor in WWII, and a golden ticket back stateside where the world is his for the taking.

Haunted by his father's legacy and a lethal impulse triggered by his experiences fighting the Japanese, he dumps his perfect all-American girlfriend (who kept faithful to him while he was away), pisses away a wide-open world full of opportunities available to him, and follows a path of self-destruction. Elliot Ness is making a comeback in Chicago, and needs somebody to infiltrate the Capone mob. Without batting an eyelash, Michael signs on, and uses his Sicilian adopted father's Chicago connections to ensnare himself in the corrupt gangland leviathan.

Ness' impossible guidelines are to avoid breaking the law while winning the trust of the top mob bosses. But Michael gets trigger-happy on his first assignment, becomes a "made man" inside his first year, and quickly works his way closer to the men who ordered his father's death.

So intimately is the main character entangled with real historical figures like Ness, Al Capone, Frank Nitti and Sam Giancana, that you'll probably be tempted to do some historical research afterwards, to see just how much liberty the author took with facts. I am.

Or you can just hang on for an engrossing, blood-splattered ride with a fascinating backdrop, while Michael's allegiances shift faster than a free agency era star-caliber NFL player's.

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