L.A. Times Essay - Critical Essays

L.A. Times

Vincente Michaele Callabrese is going almost nowhere as an enforcer for the Mafia in New York City and is under pressure to “make his bones,” or perform his first murder. That act would put him forever under the power of the Mafia. Instead, Callabrese kills his immediate superior, at the same time splitting the contents of his safe with a Mafia accountant, “Tommy Pro” Provenzano.

Enter Michael Vincent, an identity Callabrese has been establishing for several years as a student at the New York University film school. After the murder, he falls completely into that identity. Vincent is at work as a producer and business manager on a film written by Chuck Parish, who had asked him to develop a budget for the film. Vincent sells the film to Leo Goldman, the studio head at Centurion Pictures, and lands himself a production contract. That contract gets him out of New York and away from the Mafia.

Vincent’s ruthless style leads him to quick success in Hollywood. He finds a novel that he wants to adapt to the screen, but the rights to it are unavailable. Vincent arranges through Tommy Pro to have the problem taken care of. Unfortunately for Vincent, the solution implicates him in a murder. As he meets increasing success, he must also scheme to keep himself out of jail.

Vincent uses his position at Centurion to gain increasing power and wealth, exploiting everyone he can think of in any way that suits him. He dumps his girlfriend after the film she stars in for him wins an Academy Award, then takes up with Leo Goldman’s wife. Tommy Pro reveals that a trust in her name holds almost half the stock in Centurion, even though Leo Goldman votes a controlling interest. With that knowledge in hand, Vincent plans his biggest coup, a takeover of the studio. His webs of manipulation grow ever more complicated, drawing together his various schemes. Much of the novel’s delight comes from seeing just how far Vincent can go and how he will surmount increasingly difficult obstacles. His Mafia contacts and experience serve him well and provide entertaining stabs at Hollywood’s ruthlessness. The book’s climax provides a suitable end to the escalating manipulation and deception.