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'Last Don' Changes Summer War Strategy

July 04, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Don Domenico Clericuzio, the most powerful mafia chieftain in America, sits solemnly in 1965 at the family compound in Quogue, Long Island, with his nephew and three sons.

He instructs his oldest boy, Giorgio, to apply to the Wharton School of Business to learn the intricacies of stealing money without breaking the law. He tells the nephew, Pippi, to leave the family's enclave in the Bronx and go run its casino operation in Las Vegas. The second-oldest son, Petie, will supply the soldiers for the family while heading a large New York construction company. The youngest son, Vincent, who already knows how to prepare all the classic Italian dishes, is ordered to open the finest restaurant in New York, but first to attend the best cooking school in Europe.

"What can they teach me?" Vincent asks his father.

He replies: "Your pastries could be better."

So begins "The Last Don," a sprawling new novel by Mario Puzo and his first mob epic since "The Godfather" was published in 1969 and immortalized in the 1972 film version starring Marlon Brando. In a significant twist in the summer publishing sweepstakes, Random House is moving up by two months the release of the book, now scheduled to go on sale July 24. First printing: more than 350,000 copies.

To heighten interest in "The Last Don," which has earned early raves from the leading industry trade magazines and which CBS has purchased for a six-hour miniseries, the rarely interviewed Puzo, now 75, plans to leave the quiet of his Long Island home and talk up the novel. His appearances will include a visit to "Good Morning America" on the 24th.

According to Ivan Held, director of publicity at Random House, the company accelerated publication of "The Last Don" because key retailers had been asking for another big book to put on sale this summer and also because the manuscript was far enough along in production to meet the earlier date.

Still, a new generation of book buyers has come of age since "The Godfather" was published 27 years ago and the Oscar-laden movie version became a welcome TV rerun. An obvious question is whether the audience for Puzo's mafia marinara awaits "The Last Don" as eagerly as it greeted Don Corleone so long ago.

One recalls that great throngs did not rush out in 1994 to buy Joseph Heller's "Closing Time," his sequel to another landmark, "Catch-22," published 33 years earlier.

As John Grisham's "The Runaway Jury" (Doubleday) continues to top the national bestseller lists, Puzo's new title also will be competing with other commercial-fiction heavyweights during the vacation season.

Patricia Cornwell's "Cause of Death," her latest caper featuring forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetti, went on sale Tuesday. The first printing from G. P. Putnam's Sons: 1 million copies.

On Aug. 1 will arrive Anne Rice's "Servant of the Bones." Unlike her previous tales of vampires and witches, this one is about a witty genie named Azriel. In a statement released this week by Rice's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., the novelist said: "The book is deeply rooted in Jewish and Christian mysticism and its theme is redemption." This, too, will receive a planned printing of 1 million copies.

Expected on Aug. 13--expected for more than a year, in fact--is Tom Clancy's "Executive Orders." In 900-plus pages of technothriller, Clancy will make his hero, Jack Ryan, president of the United States and, we hope, have him save the republic after an assault on Washington.

Putnam plans a first printing of 2 million copies.

*

Afterwords: The New Republic cuts a path to the halls of academe starting with the new issue, which introduces a column called "The Hard Questions," written by a rotating lineup of four university-based political thinkers. Michael J. Sandel, professor of government at Harvard University, inaugurates the column by pondering Bob Dole's call for a "declaration of tolerance" toward pro-choice Republicans.

The other three contributors are Ronald Steel, professor of international politics at the University of Southern California; Michael Walzer, professor of social sciences at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago.

The new column follows the recent naming of a new editor, Michael Kelly, now Washington editor of the New Yorker, who will succeed Andrew Sullivan after the November election. . .

* Ready or not, here comes a book based on "3rd Rock From the Sun," the hit NBC sitcom about a family of aliens who assume human forms to live among us. Won at auction by HarperPerennial, this will be an oversize paperback guide to earthly curiosities (why are there no K's in Special K cereal?) written in cooperation with the series' scriptwriters and scheduled for November release . . .

* Robert L. Miller used to be president of Time Inc. Ventures, the Los Angeles-based division that launched Martha Stewart Living and Vibe magazines and managed a bunch of other periodicals in the Time Inc. empire. After announcing recently that he was starting GoldRush Media to acquire magazines, Miller returned to the microphone this week to add that he and Quincy Jones, who founded Vibe three years ago, were buying the chronicle of urban music and culture from Time Inc. Ventures . . .

* "The Third Sister," subtitled "A Continuation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility," is a new novel published by Donald I. Fine Books and written by Julia Barrett. Although the name Julia Barrett is described as a pseudonym, the author's photograph appears on the back flap, which says: "She makes her home in Santa Monica, Calif." Go figure.

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Thursdays.

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