Sunday, November 03, 2013


Stephen Mertz is an unheralded, and much undervalued, writer of action and suspense novels.  He has steadily put together an impressive body of work since the late 1970s.  He was one of the original writers of the post-Don Pendleton, The Executioner series, and he created a few of his own successful men’s adventure series in the 1980s, including M. I. A. Hunter and Cody’s War.  But the meat of his work is what he has produced over the last decade starting with Night Wind, and including the excellent novels The Korean Intercept, Dragon Games, and Hank & Muddy.

I read his most recent novel The Castro Directive in close to a single sitting.  It is a straight action thriller with a dollop of intrigue, and a touch of betrayal.  The year is 1961.  The CIA sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba is in its final phase and a high level leak is passing information about the invasion to the Castro government.  When a CIA man is killed on a deserted Cuban beach the Kennedy administration brings in a troubleshooter named Michael “Graveyard” Morgan.  Graveyard is a Green Beret sergeant stationed in Vietnam as an advisor, and he is a man who gets the job done.

Morgan’s job is to find the mole.  It takes him from the streets of Miami to Nicaragua to Cuba, and back again.  There is an interesting sub plot involving Graveyard’s daughter and wife, and the cast of characters includes President Kennedy.  The JFK described is long on intelligence, but short on marital fidelity.  One of my favorite presidential scenes has Kennedy reading a James Bond novel poolside. 
The Castro Directive’s plot is straight forward, but with a few well timed and satisfying surprises.  The prose is stark and, in places, quite vivid— 
“The only sound for the past ten minutes had been the lapping of gentle swells against the low, black-painted hull.  The V-20 speedboat rode the swells one hundred yards offshore.  Sleek, sixty-three-feet in length, the launch bore no name or markings.”   
Graveyard is an action hero from the old school.  He is tough, single minded, and willing to do, and risk, anything to get the job done.  The added element of his family, which Mr Mertz ties into the story admirably, adds a little meat to the bone and makes the story more interesting.  The real charm of The Castro Directive is the setting—1960’s South Florida, especially—and the straight forward action, which is a specialty of Mr Mertz. 

The Castro Directive may be Stephen Mertz’s best novel to date—and each is seemingly better than the last—but even if it isn’t his best, it is damn enjoyable anyway.

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