Richard Condon | Critical Review by Joe Queenan

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Richard Condon.
This section contains 959 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Joe Queenan

SOURCE: "Swept Away by the Hit Man's Daughter," in The New York Times Book Review, February 6, 1994, p. 9.

In the review below, Queenan finds Prizzi's Money "riotously funny," emphasizing Condon's "acid prose."

Measles rarely plays a pivotal role in books about the Mafia. But when Charley Partanna, hit man's hit man, is suddenly afflicted by a severe case of the measles 49 pages into Richard Condon's hilarious novel Prizzi's Money, he finds himself incapable of accepting a mob contract to go to London to murder Julia Asbury, a brassy woman who is trying to steal $1.4 billion from the infamous Prizzi family. By the time Charley is feeling well enough to ice the truculent whackee, the Prizzis have discovered that Mrs. Asbury is actually Julia Melvini, the daughter of another top Prizzi hit man, known as the Plumber "because of his signature threat to flush recalcitrants down the toilet." In fact, the Plumber's most recent victim was his son-in-law, Henry, husband of Julia, who hired the Prizzis to stage his own kidnapping so he could keep the $75 million ransom—but who now must die because his wife has become so annoying.

Since industry ethics deem it dishonorable to hit the daughter of a hit man while the hit man is still doing hits for the family that authorized the hit, Don Corrado Prizzi, capo di tutti capi, orders one of Charley's aides, Pino Tasca, first to whack the Plumber—taking care of any problems on the offense-to-omerta front—and then to whack the Plumber's daughter. But Pino complicates everything by falling in love with the hit man's daughter, then bungling the hit on her hit man dad and then getting hit himself.

In the end, the only way the don has any hope of getting his money back is by arranging for his son Eduardo, a financial genius with blue hair "by Albert of Warsaw," to marry Julia and then trick her into running for the United States Senate, which will require her to relinquish control of the 137 companies her whacked husband used to own and fork them over to the Prizzis. Which seems like a wonderful solution to everyone but Julia, who couldn't care less about the Senate, and Charley Partanna, who despite being engaged to Maerose Prizzi, the granddaughter of the capo di tutti capi who authorized the contract on Julia in the first place, has now fallen madly in love with the woman he would have iced 120 pages earlier if he hadn't come down with the measles. Mr. Condon writes:

They were in love, as much as Charley detested the transience of that phrase. They loved in the way the great ones had loved, Charley insisted, the way Bogie and Ingrid had loved, and Ingrid and Bogie. With all his heart he knew that he and Mrs. Asbury were one being. They made cosmic music together. Why else, Charley asked himself, did he always wear a jacket and a necktie when he saw her?

Why ask why?

Prizzi's Money is the latest riotously funny installment in a series of novels that includes Prizzi's Glory, Prizzi's Family and Prizzi's Honor, the last of which was the basis for a fine movie starring Jack Nicholson as the likable hit man Charley Partanna. As was the case in Prizzi's Honor, the infamous don, his vile sons and their assorted vindicatori, intimidatori and even what Mr. Condon refers to as "assistant intimidatori" and "apprentice vindicatori" now find themselves confronted by a force of nature that they are culturally unequipped to deal with: a perfidious woman 10 times more cunning and determined than they are. As the long-suffering don gloomily laments: "Sixteen months ago this Asbury woman was a simple housewife, now she runs 137 companies and wants to take over the biggest conglomerate in America. It's that … woman's movement that puts these crazy ideas into their heads."

The delicious notion that the Cosa Nostra could somehow be subverted by Naomi Wolf-style power feminism is only one of the gloriously crackpot ideas that appear in Prizzi's Money. There is also a memorable scene in which the Prizzis pay a shady butler $50,000 to murder Mrs. Asbury, but insist on getting a receipt. In another set piece, Don Corrado's son Vincent, whose daughter Maerose is engaged to marry Charley Partanna, is seen at his desk fuming at how hard it is to fill out his I.R.S. forms. And the book is also liberally supplied with such shadowy organizations as the Little Sisters of Pain and Pity and churches with names like St. Philip of the Wounds.

Of course, what really makes the novel work is Mr. Condon's acid prose. "If taxis wore clothes they would resemble Charley," he writes. Of Julia, he says, "She had a passionate Siciliannose and—God!—whata mouth—an army could feed on that mouth and be able to march for 10 days." Finally, summing up the unconventional love affair between the attractive psychopaths, he writes:

Charley went head over heels about Mrs. Asbury. At her insistence he shaved off the mustache and went back to wearing an ordinary felt fedora. No matter how busy he got with his work and, what with subverting the labor movement, going through all the intricate moves of bribing politicians and police officials, assigning contracts for hits, keeping up with the public's relentless demand for cocaine and adding to the American cost of living by his chains of tributes that took effect as soon as the goods were moved into the cities, tributes that were then added to the cost of almost everything to be passed on to the consumer, Charley was always thinking about Julia Asbury and how, despite his engagement to Maerose Prizzi, he could ask a classy woman like that to marry him.

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This section contains 959 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Joe Queenan
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