Monday, June 3, 2013

Listened: "Killing Castro" by Lawrence Block

Listened: Killing Castro by Lawrence Block, 1961 (2008 audio edition off Hard Case reprint), OverDrive download.

Another re-release of a novel written by Block during his salt mining days.  First published 50 years ago.  I'm glad he's putting these out again.  Block's even happier, he's getting the dough.

These older books are doubling interesting to me.  One, they are well done and bring back the question, "Did Block ever write a bad book?"  Two, I enjoy seeing the world through the thoughts and actions of a different, but same, culture.  So many things change and so many things stay the same.

Five guys are hired to murder Fidel Castro in 1961.  They are hired by Cubans in Miami and sent to the island in two pairs and one single.  None of the guys fit together and all came to the job separately.  I don't recall all the character names because I don't retain that info from audio books.

- Guy #1 is on the run after murdering his cheating girlfriend and her sex partner.  He takes the offer of the $20,000 bounty on Castro to pay for an escape to Brazil.
- Another killer is out to revenge his dead brother who fought with Castro and was then executed.
- One guy is an experienced assassin and wants nothing to do with the other wahoos.
- Fourth guy is a hard-case who does muscle work.
- The last guy has terminal lung cancer and is out to do something besides wither away in his teller cage at the local bank.

Block employs the Blockensian Method of taking us through each character and also detailing the rise of Castro.  The Blockensian Method is so dang effective.  Block takes a very short amount of space to flesh the guys out.  You quickly learn their personalities and motives.

The five guys head to Cuba.  Things happen.  One pair teams with a rural resistance group planning an ambush.  The second pair goes to Havana and plans a bombing.  The skilled assassin hangs out in the high-class part of Havana and plans to shoot Castro during a speech.  Other things happen and the assassins are killed or change their plans.

1. Group sex.  Hookers.
2.  I really liked Block's neat biography about Castro's youth and rise to power.  A couple of the the assassin characters know nothing about Castro and Cuba.  I suppose many readers in 1961 were the same and Block wrote the Castro information to add some context.
2.a. The biography had plenty of 1961 questions about Castro and his motives.  Is he sincere?  Was he sincere?  Is he out for himself and just wants power and control?  What's with those six hour speeches?  The problems that a successful revolutionary has when transitioning to a political leader.  (Castro's main problem was that he kept killing people and followed no law.)  
3.  There has been 50 years of this stuff in real life.  Expatriots attempting coups and assassination.  The United States attempting assassination and undermining the government.  Local attempts of the same style.  How many stories have been kept secret by Cuba or the U.S. or former Cubans?  How many bombings, shootings, poisonings, car wrecks, etc. were performed or attempted over the decades?  How many people were lined up against the wall?
4.  Other Cuba related novels I can recall.  Ellroy's '60s triptych.  Martin Cruz Smith Arkaday novel with a planned coup.  Mickey Spillane's and Max Allan Collins's Morgan the Raider novel.  John Sayles's Los Gusanos
5.  Albany, NY.
6.  The assassination operation is horribly planned.  The Florida Cubans say, "We'll give you $20,000 a piece if you kill Castro," then they arrange transit to Cuba.  That's it.  No planning on how, when or where.  No planning on escape.  No funding.  The guys are just sent there and picked up by locals anti-Castro groups.  The killers have to succeed and then find their own way back to Miami to claim the cash.
7.  Did Block ever write a bad book?  He was a heavy drinker for a while and I presume that must have effected his work. I suppose if he did do a hack job he just won't put it out again.
8.  Castro dies in the end.  The killer out for revenge throws a bomb and the killer is then beaten to death by the audience.

1 comment:

George said...

I don't think Block every wrote a bad book. I've read a large amount of his output over the decades and enjoyed all those books (some more than others).