Wednesday, February 15, 2012

GN Review -- Road to Perdition / Max Allan Collins & Richard Piers Rayner

I'll start off this review by saying, before anyone asks, that as of this writing, I've yet to see the movie adaptation of this story, starring Tom Hanks.  After having read this story, however, I can guarantee you that I'll be seeing it in the very near future.

The basic premise of Road to Perdition is very simple.  It's a revenge story, in which Michael O'Sullivan, a violent but surprisingly honorable enforcer for an Irish mobster, takes revenge on his former employer for murdering his wife and youngest son.  Through a stroke of cosmic luck and mistaken identity, his older son, Michael Jr., is away from the house when it gets hit, and O'Sullivan--known in mob circles as the Angel of Death--comes home to find Michael tending to the bodies.  Keeping many details to himself and teaching his son whatever he believes he needs to know to survive, O'Sullivan takes his surviving boy on a road trip to avenge their loss on the men who did this--as well as anyone else who would help them or obstruct O'Sullivan.

I really enjoyed the writing employed in telling this story.  The plot of the story, however basic, was engrossing enough to get me to crack the book and start reading.  The amazing execution via Collins's deft research and storytelling did the rest.  He does a good job of not only capturing the feel of Prohibition-era gangster times and settings, but also in keeping the narrator's voice at the forefront of the story.  Told through the younger Michael's viewpoint, we see his initial lionization of his father; his shock and disillusionment as he comes to realize his father's occupation and what it means; and finally his understanding and admiration for his father's honorable nature and kindness despite his grisly trade.  There's genuine affection between father and son, despite their tragedy and the elder O'Sullivan's general terseness, that shows a large disconnect between what he does and what kind of man he is.

Aside from the characterization, there are plenty of plot and action sequences to praise.  Unable to go after his betrayer, Looney, directly, O'Sullivan starts hitting Looney where it hurts: his pocketbooks, his lawyers, and his son, who Looney must now hide in order to keep alive.  O'Sullivan is shown in several high-intensity, bloody action sequences that show him gunning down and killing multiple mobsters--usually on their own turf--or initiating deals that will legally or financially ruin his foes with equal aplomb.  Looney's vicious resentment of his life's "interruption" due to the Angel of Death's vendetta is alternately hilarious and viscerally satisfying when compared to the travesty he inflicted upon O'Sullivan that began the interruption.

The art in this story is unbelievable.  Rayner's illustrations look like they could have been done directly from genuine photographs of the era.  They're realistic, they're cinematic, and they're consistent.  From small towns to casino boats to the urban sprawl of Prohibition-era Chicago, you feel every bit of verisimilitude conveyed in the writing in no small part due to Rayner's work.

Overall, I can't say enough good things about this story.  The premise is excellent, the portrayals of time and space are genuine and engaging, the characters are believable, flawed, and despite everything, easy to relate to.  The artwork is both breath-taking and haunting, and an amazing enhancement of the narrative.  Anyone who likes stories about crime, revenge, mobsters, or father-son relationships would do well to pick up this very well told and illustrated story.  Very highly recommended.

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