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Spotlight on: Road to Purgatory by Max Allan Collins

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Road to Purgatory by Max Allan Collins Max Allan Collins, Road to Purgatory

Michael Satariano, formerly Michael O'Sullivan, Jr., son of John Looney's "Angel of Death," has become the one-eyed war hero who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Bataan. He is looking to avenge his father's murder by the famous Chicago gangster Al Capone, now released from prison but sequestering himself from all but his most intimate fellows (including acting Outfit boss, Frank Nitti) due to the advanced debilitating effects of syphilis.

To succeed in doing that, Michael will have to infiltrate the highest echelons of the Outfit, using his apparent Sicilian heritage to his benefit (Papa Satariano, his adoptive father, ran a restaurant that was a favorite hangout of Outfit personnel), and with the full knowledge of FBI agent Eliot Ness, who has kept Michael's true identity a secret (and even assisted with his eventual adoption).

Part sequel (Collins considers this a sequel primarily to his Road to Perdition novelization -- the events begin ten years later) and part prequel (four chapters focus on Michael O'Sullivan, Sr.'s, role in a political riot in 1922, his antagonistic relationship with Connor Looney, and the birth of Mike's brother, Peter), Road to Purgatory is, above all, a novel of betrayal. Mike can't seem to keep his word to anyone but himself, not even the too-good-to-be-true hometown girl he left behind when he went to war, and a good deal of the novel's suspense comes from wondering when Frank Nitti, who all but adopts Mike as a surrogate son, will find out the truth. Mike digs himself deeper with each new relationship and things really start to fall apart when someone from his pre-war past resurfaces in the present.

The Chicago gangland of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s is author Max Allan Collins' specialty. Eliot Ness, in particular, has appeared in so many of his novels (specifically this and his Nathan Heller series, as well as his own starring series of novels and other media) that it is almost a surprise when he is absent (like in Collins' Disaster series, like The War of the Worlds Murder, featuring mystery writers as amateur detectives). Luckily, Ness plays a major role in Road to Purgatory (though, with Prohibition over, he's pretty much stuck fighting that other social pariah, venereal disease, giving him yet another connection to Capone).

Collins' characteristic exhaustive research (he even lets us in on the Outfit's "made man" ceremony) adds considerable depth and atmosphere to this not-so-simple revenge tale, the middle story in a saga named after the three parts of Dante's Divine Comedy. He takes the bold step of making Capone and Nitti sympathetic characters and manages to add Nitti's death into the narrative in a way that does not contradict his earlier dramatization of it in his Nathan Heller novel, The Million-Dollar Wound. And the best part is the saga of Michael Satariano is not over yet, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into the final entry of the saga, taking place primarily in the 1970s, Road to Paradise. Fans of the graphic novel of Road to Perdition will also want to seek out the graphic sequel of sorts (really an expansion of the middle), Road to Perdition 2: On the Road.

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