“Mercy Row: Retribution” by Harry Hallman

“Copperhead Road” meets “The Godfather.”

Both these works deal with the idea that if you treat the po’folks like dirt but put them in the army and teach them to kill, you’re likely to have a problem when they come home. In both cases the heroes come from criminal families and return from war to update the family procedures: one from moonshine to marijuana, the other from protection to heroin trafficking.

However, this book reads less like Puzo’s literature and more like Steve Earle’s 80’s Downhome Rock number, a pounding recitation of incidents in an unchanging key, with no one in the story to hang our emotions on.

The first chapters show Gerry Amato in Vietnam indulging his love of dangerous flying, smuggling dope, and killing people. It also sets up the charitable side of the man and his family: the orphanage and the local people they support. After a final duty run over the jungle with enough battle action to satisfy the most ardent war fan, Gerry comes home.

The rest of the book contains finely detailed reports of the home life of his extended family, interspersed with the atrocities and machinations of various mobs. The main conflict involves the places where the two eventually overlap. With the odd side trip into the wonderful native food of Philadelphia, such as Tastykakes and Scrapple. Who woulda guessed? Well, it is fiction.

A well-researched and smoothly written yarn with a great deal of action and violence, but little balancing empathy for any of the characters. A sad commentary on the American fascination with violence and organized crime, but we’re not reviewing the American Republican party, here. Recommended for those of the age, gender, and upbringing that consider “Copperhead Road” has something to say to them. “Godfather” got Puzo an Oscar. “Copperhead Road” made it to #7 on the US Billboard Country Albums. I give “Retribution” four stars out of five for hitting a very sour note almost perfectly.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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