By James Cullum
It took 33 years for Alexandrian George Vercessi to finish his third novel “King of the Hill”. In it, the mob never had it so good. Gangsters finally have their man in the Oval Office, leaving no one to prevent hundreds of millions of stolen Social Security dollars from finding their way into a remote bank account in Arizona. And fooling everybody all of the time in Vercessi’s Washington is a simple task, since the year is 1961 and computers are easily manipulated and IT security is nonexistent. While not high art, the book is a reliable companion at the beach.
“My books are entertainment, and I’m writing about what I know. I’ve spent a lot of time in Washington, and, as you know, the military is very political,” Vercessi said.
A 25-year Navy veteran, Vercessi got the idea for the book when he was an Ensign on the U.S.S. Paul Revere. He started writing the book in 1976 when he taught communications at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Vercessi has rewritten the “King of the Hill” 12 times, until, two years ago, “I was at the point of throwing it all away or finishing it completely,” he said. “Whenever you finish a book it feels good, but this one really felt good.”
“King of the Hill” is the story of Julius Caesar Vittorio, the once-law-abiding son of New York Don Anthony Vittorio. When his father is assassinated in 1958, law student “Julie” goes back home to New York City and receives a nasty shock: his father was in the mafia. But is Vittorio dismayed to discover that daddy was a gangster, probably a murderer? Not really, and from that point on, the reader may have a problem identifying with the character or believing that his actions aren’t predetermined by Vercessi”˜s plotting. After all, wouldn’t there be some small indication during Vittorio’s childhood that his father was involved in organized crime? For instance: didn’t he ever wonder why his family never had to wait for a table at a restaurant?
The plot, which elbows its way forward, then takes its biggest stretch. Suddenly, on page 28, after being invited by seasoned mob veterans to take up the post of the Don of the Washington D.C. metro area, Vittorio ponders for about 30 seconds. In less than a paragraph, the law student, who had never shot a gun, who probably thought a “hit” was something on the radio, thinks about it and accepts the position.
Eventually, Vittorio and a few of the boys bilk the Treasury Department out of millions, potentially billions of dollars. All they have to do is modify a computer system and presto! The mob is now receiving Social Security checks for dead people. And to sweeten the deal, in 1976, with the U.S. presidential race in full swing, Vittorio has his candidate on the Democratic ticket running against Gerald Ford.
While not very believable, “King of the Hill” is read best while your spouse applies suntan lotion to your shoulders, while in the distance, a dog catches a Frisbee.
An Alexandria resident since 1991, Vercessi has become adept at self publishing. In fact, his one non-fiction work, “An Author’s Guide to Publishing on the Internet”, has good tips on what pitfalls for writers to avoid in the marketing process. Vercessi is now writing “Ice Man”, a political thriller starring Jerzy Shore, a Naval Criminal Investigative Service cold case investigator who inadvertently walks into political intrigue.