Victoria Gotti: novelist, offering puzzles, provocation and impressive marketing

March 16, 1997|By MICHAEL PAKENHAM

A hot marketing campaign is being waged for a crime-thriller novel of such improbability of provenance that several generations of American and Sicilian organized crime stalwarts dTC are surely spinning in their concrete overshoes, or however they may have been resting. From the back of the dust jacket blazes the picture you see here. In color. Vibrant. The book is "The Senator's Daughter," by Victoria Gotti. (Forge/St. Martin's. 303 pages. $23.95). On its dramatically black-and-white dust jacket, the volume's title appears in silver type that is a shade less than one-half inch high. The name Gotti is almost two and a half inches tall and in glaring white, far more visually declarative even than the five-to-one size ratio suggests.

The clear intent: Sell the name and not the title.

The novel opens with the killing of a waterfront union-and-mob chieftain who is shot in the face in an Italian restaurant. Except for the setting, in Boston not midtown Manhattan, and that the book's hit is indoors rather than on the sidewalk, it could be a dead-on description of the demise of Paul Castellano outside Sparks steak house on Dec. 16, 1985, an event that presaged the ascension of John Gotti to the supreme capo-hood of the Gambino family of the Mafia, a position previously occupied by the late lamented Don Pauli.

John Gotti, now in Marion, Ill., federal prison for life without parole for a wide assortment of indiscretions, is the 33-year-old novelist's father. Nowhere in the book or the dust jacket is Dear Old Dad's line of work declared. But the publicity handouts refer to him as "an intriguing public figure" and "famous." No lie there.

The author dedicates the book to her mother and father, John and Victoria, "who together have always given me the courage, hope and strength to continue on," to her three sons, to her husband Carmine (whose last name is Agnello and who owns a large and apparently very prosperous auto-parts operation in Queens) and to her siblings.

The book's heroine is Taylor Brooke, a 28-year-old, maddeningly attractive lawyer in private practice, with long blonde hair that goes down to her shoulders. There are two father figures, one who has been wasted on the opening page and another who, for the sake of shorthand, might be an amalgam of Joseph P. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy and Al Capone before the decline of that last figure's fortunes.

The narrative demonstrates an impressively intricate understanding of the criminal justice system and of defense trial technique.

The prose is not artful, but it is clean and clear. The velocity of the book is carried effectively by the use of tight, even sparkling, episodic anecdotes. There is a good deal more telling and less showing than in most of the finer thriller fiction forms. The sentences are bright and short. The language and pace make the prose swiftly and simply comprehensible.

The book ends with all the ribbons tied in neat bows. The weakest part might be taken to be the ending, but the whole thing remains readable.

Sometimes it goes a bit purple, but almost enchantingly: "He drove up and down the streets near the city jail until he found the bondsman's office. The building needed a coat of paint, the windows hadn't been washed since the Cold War had ended, the neon sign hissed and sizzled like bacon on a hot griddle."

You get the idea. Ms. Gotti, who it seems reasonably clear actually wrote the book, has read a lot, from early childhood. She has told interviewers that her father, who was proud to be known as "the Teflon don" until the feds snagged him, read the manuscript and declared it valid in tone and technique.

The book could be read as a burlesque of classic crime thrillers, yielding enormous amusement. It is a rollicking romp, read as light entertainment.

It can be read also as an intricate puzzle of shadow figures and childhood influences, looking for flashes of real people and events, searching out evidence of the cultures of organized crime.

There is a large cast of characters. Almost every human relationship is described both openly as it seems on the surface but additionally as sinister or cryptic at some other level. This produces a sort of counterpoint of plots: One, the outwardly stated-and-seen action; the other, secret and often evil or bathed in fear. The shadow themes, in general, emerge to dominate.

I am not practicing psychotherapy this week, so I reject the opportunity to suggest that this device could be taken as a reflection of an author's surreptitious life screaming to break into the open.

Without giving up the entrails of a lean but very intricate plot, it can be said that yes, the parental generation is a thoroughly bad and corrupt lot, capable of commercial murder and worse, and that the younger generation is populated by heroes and heroines: pure of heart, invincibly smart and capable of perfect love.

Really neat redemption stuff. Combined with a traveling road show by Ms. Gotti, this is a publicity blitz you can't refuse, so to speak.

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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