Monday, August 05, 2013

KILLING CASTRO by Lawrence Block

HCC Edition, 2009
A few months ago I purchased a large lot of original mass market Hard Case Crime novels online.  The lot included a bunch of titles I missed when they were issued and I have been slowly making my way down the stack.  I recently read Killing Castro by Lawrence Block, and while it wasn’t what I expected, it certainly wasn’t a disappointment.

The story centers around five American men who are hired to kill Fidel Castro.  The plan is to split the men up to take multiple attempts on Castro’s life.  The novel opens in Ybor City, Florida—Tampa’s Latin district—where the men are brought together for a briefing; each is promised $20,000 if Fidel Castro is killed. 
The novel spends time in the perspective of each of the men, including back stories, and motivating factors.  The men range from outright criminals to anti-Castro zealots to adventure seekers.  The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, and there is much less action than expected.  Instead it builds more as a character piece (in a very genre manner), focusing on each of the assassins and their reasons for taking the job.  One is a dying bank clerk, another is running from the law, and another is avenging the murder of his brother. 
The novel is divided into 11 chapters, and every other one is devoted to Castro’s rise to power.  The segments documenting Castro’s political ascendency are seemingly accurate, and Mr Block takes some effort to explain the psychology of political dissidence, revolution and power.  The novel has an atmosphere of weariness.  A weariness of this is how the world has always worked, and this is how it always will work.  Castro could be exchanged for a thousand different tyrants and nothing would change.

Killing Castro is a dark story, but it doesn’t fit very well into a specific category.  The opening line of the novel is both misleading, and indicative, of the novel:
“The taxi, one headlight out and one fender crimped, cut through downtown Tampa and headed into Ybor City.”

It is a precursor for the atmosphere and tone of the novel, but it is misleading because it sets the stage for a very straight forward 1960s suspense novel, which it isn’t, exactly.  What it is, is a very good, and very entertaining story, with just enough action and suspense to keep it interesting, and a bevy of detail about Cuba in the middle Twentieth Century.

Killing Castro was published in 1961 with the title Fidel Castro Assassinated as by Lee Duncan.  A nom de plume Mr Block used only once.           

1 comment:

Ed Gorman said...

I had the same reaction while I was reading it. I enjoyed it and was really impressed by parts of it but I kept exactly what kind of novel IS this? Whatever, Block did a hell of a good job.