This novel was originally published in 1961 by Monarch Books under the title FIDEL CASTRO ASSASSINATED and the pseudonym Lee Duncan, a name Lawrence Block used only the one time. I just got around to reading the Hard Case Crime reprint of it from earlier this year. For some reason, I didn’t expect to like it all that much. To be honest, I haven’t really cared for the last few books I’ve read by Block. But I was pleasantly surprised.
The plot’s not complicated at all: five Americans are hired by sneak into Cuba and kill Fidel Castro, who at that point had been in power only a year or two. Their employers are supposedly wealthy Cuban expatriates who fled when Castro took over the country, but Block is deliberately vague about whether or not any American interests are also involved. The would-be assassins are the variety of types you’d expect in a book like this: a former syndicate hitman who’s gone freelance; a tough guy on the run from the law for killing his prostitute girlfriend and her lover in a crime of passion; a muscleman who’s not too bright; a mild-looking former bank teller with a secret; and a college kid with reasons of his own for wanting Castro dead.
The book switches back and forth between the storyline of the five Americans slipping into Cuba and making their preparations for the assassination, and a concise history of Castro’s life and the revolution he carried out. Block does a good job on both elements, and the prose is smooth and fun to read, as it always is even when Block’s plots don’t really work for me. This time the plot works fine. A few things play out just about the way you’d expect, but many of them don’t. And the ending certainly surprised me.
KILLING CASTRO is so firmly grounded in its era that it reads almost like a historical novel now, which, of course, is not a bad thing. I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad Hard Case Crime rescued it from obscurity.