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Summary and book reviews of The Godfather Returns by Mark Winegardner

The Godfather Returns

by Mark Winegardner

The Godfather Returns
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2004, 448 pages
    Aug 2005, 560 pages

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Book Summary

The missing years from the greatest crime saga of all's 1955 and Michael Corleone has won a bloody victory in the war among New York's crime families but now he must consolidate his power, save his marriage and take his family into legitimate business.


Thirty-five years ago, Mario Puzo's great American tale, The Godfather, was published, and popular culture was indelibly changed. Now, in The Godfather Returns, acclaimed novelist Mark Winegardner continues the story–the years not covered in Puzo's bestselling book or in Francis Ford Coppola's classic films.

It is 1955. Michael Corleone has won a bloody victory in the war among New York's crime families. Now he wants to consolidate his power, save his marriage, and take his family into legitimate businesses. To do so, he must confront his most dangerous adversary yet, Nick Geraci, a former boxer who worked his way through law school as a Corleone street enforcer, and who is every bit as deadly and cunning as Michael. Their personal cold war will run from 1955 to 1962, exerting immense influence on the lives of America's most powerful criminals and their loved ones, including

  • Tom Hagen, the Corleone Family's lawyer and consigliere, who embarks on a political career in Nevada while trying to protect his brother;
  • Francesca Corleone, daughter of Michael's late brother Sonny, who is suddenly learning her family's true history and faces a difficult choice;
  • Don Louie Russo, head of the Chicago mob, who plays dumb but has wily ambitions for muscling in on the Corleones' territory;
  • Peter Clemenza, the stalwart Corleone underboss, who knows more Family secrets than almost anyone;
  • Ambassador M. Corbett Shea, a former Prohibition-era bootlegger and business ally of the Corleones', who wants to get his son elected to the presidency–and needs some help from his old friends;
  • Johnny Fontane, the world's greatest saloon singer, who ascends to new heights as a recording artist, cozying up to Washington's power elite and maintaining a precarious relationship with notorious underworld figures;
  • Kay Adams Corleone, who finally discovers the truth about her husband, Michael–and must decide what it means for their marriage and their children and
  • Fredo Corleone, whose death has never been fully explained until now, and whose betrayal of the Family was part of a larger and more sinister chain of events.

Sweeping from New York and Washington to Las Vegas and Cuba, The Godfather Returns is the spellbinding story of America's criminal underworld at mid-century and its intersection with the political, legal, and entertainment empires. Mark Winegardner brings an original voice and vision to Mario Puzo's mythic characters while creating several equally unforgettable characters of his own. The Godfather Returns stands on its own as a triumph–in a tale about what we love, yearn for, and sometimes have reason to fear . . . family.

Chapter 1

ON A COLD spring Monday afternoon in 1955, Michael Corleone summoned Nick Geraci to meet him in Brooklyn. As the new Don entered his late father's house on Long Island to make the call, two men dressed like grease monkeys watched a television puppet show, waiting for Michael's betrayer to deliver him and marveling at the tits of the corn-fed blond puppeteer.

Michael, alone, walked into the raised corner room his late father had used as an office. He sat behind the little rolltop desk that had been Tom Hagen's. The consigliere's desk. Michael would have called from home– Kay and the kids had left this morning to visit her folks in New Hampshire –except that his phone was tapped. So was the other line in this house. He kept them that way to mislead listeners. But the inventive wiring that led to the phone in this office–and the chain of bribes that protected it–could have thwarted an army of cops. Michael dialed. He had no address book,...

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Media Reviews

Chicago Sun-Times Henry Kisor

Winegardner, a more skillful stylist than Puzo, richly builds upon the original characters, especially consigliere Tom Hagen and Michael's brother Fredo.

Mark Hinson, Tallahassee Democrat

Winegardner's high-octane The Godfather Returns moves as fast as a drive-by shooting with tommy guns. It's full of violence, sex, insider knowledge about Fredo Corleone's double life—and more sex.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Harry Levins

Now that Frank Sinatra is dead and Random House is beyond the reach of libel lawyers, Puzo's Johnny Fontane can stop hinting at Sinatra and can instead become Winegardner's Sinatra (complete with entourage of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and women by the dozen). Now that J. Edgar Hoover is dead, Winegardner can dredge up those ugly sex-life rumors and attach them to his fictional FBI chief. Now that that the Kennedy legend has dimmed, Winegardner feels free to present the family in the thinnest of disguises. Jack and Bobby Kennedy are presented as the Shea family—and they use Mafia money and muscle to win the White House for Jimmy Shea in 1960.

Fort Worth/Dallas Star-Telegram - Jeff Guinn

An earnest homage to the original

New York Times

He hits the right, Puzo-like note, as when he describes the whacking of the traitor Tessio.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - Fernando Ortiz

I find myself more and more attracted to the strong new voice, the new faces, and the new dangers. It's thrilling to watch Winegardner perform an impressive balancing act—he's daring enough to take a classic novel in a new direction, and yet nimble enough not to trample Puzo's work. Winegardner is simply adding new roses to Puzo's bouquet, gently moving old ones aside, and what a vivid, vibrant bouquet it is.

New York Post - Liz Smith

A mighty wow of a read. I couldn't put it down and spent two feverish days and nights putting off everything else to finish the saga of the Corleones. The read of the fall.

Entertainment Weekly

Most Puzo fans would have gladly settled for more of exactly the same, and Winegardner instead is giving them something that, in critical ways (more character development and depth, more subtle storytelling) exceeds the original. Essentially, The Godfather Returns didn't have to be this good—but it is.

Kirkus Reviews

Mario Puzo would have liked this knowing homage to his best-known book. So will many, many readers.

Publishers Weekly

Winegardner brings enormous talent to bear on this popular story and its immense cast of characters, deepening Puzo's work at nearly every step. A wholly absorbing novel that's written beautifully, with great skill and passion. Godfather fans will love this tale; Puzo himself must be raising a celestial glass and shouting a hearty Salut!

Library Journal - Nancy Pearl

Acclaimed novelist Winegardner (Crooked River Burning)—whose proposal for this sequel to Mario Puzo's 1969 classic, The Godfather, was selected after an international search by the publisher—carries off the assignment con brio. Taking place between 1955 and 1962, between the end of Puzo's novel and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's two sequels, The Godfather Returns describes the early years of Michael Corleone's reign....Just as in the original, the pages fly by, characters are dispatched in various violent ways, and a rough sort of justice (like it or not) prevails.

Reader Reviews


This book is a great successor to the Puzo books, and it gives the reader a more centered look at all the Corleone Family and FAMLIA
answers much of the unanswered questions from the movies and Books. They should make a movie out of this one.

Samuel Torcasio

Mark Winegardner does justice to the original Godfather. His writing exceeds the talent of the master, Mario Puzo. Amplification of the Thomas Hagen, Johnnie Fontaine and Fredo Corleaone characters was top notch. Perhaps a movie will follow. Then ...   Read More

bob wisener

This is a must-read for all fans of Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" and/or the movie trilogy. My only complaint is that in developing other characters, the author takes the focus off Michael for long stretches. But the development of certain ...   Read More


the true story essence was not captured
I feel that the author did not capture the true essence of the characters which was explained in such great detail in the original Godfather by Mario Puzo. I also found the story did not show the truthfulness of life in the mafia as puzo did so ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Mark Winegardner won an international search by publisher, Random House, to write The Godfather Returns.  However, he's no wet behind the ears first novelist - he's been writing for at least 20 years and is known for his 'propulsive narration'.   These are the six books that he has published to date, in addition he has edited three more:

  • Elvis Presley Boulevard (1996 - Winegardner narrates his travels across the US, and reminisces about his childhood travels)
  • Prophet of the Sandlots (1990 - a biography of baseball scout, Tony Lucadello)
  • The Veracruz Blues (1996 - his first novel, set in Mexico in 1946, about baseball)
  • Crooked River Burning (2001 - a funny,...

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