Books: Mafioso Prizzi's Family

by Richard Condon Putnam; 284 pages; $17.95

"Prequel" is one of those smarmy coinages, like "brunch," that make a self-respecting user of language want to wash his mouth out with whisky. Brunch can be avoided by not getting out of bed before noon on Sundays, but prequel -- ptui! -- probably is inevitable for works such as Richard Condon's rowdy new novel, a report on the formative years of the author's lovable but dumb Mafia assassin Charley Partanna.

Condon's book is not so stirring an achievement as to be inevitable, but it is cheerful and funny, and no effort should be made to avoid it. Charley, of course,...

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