24 December 2008

Killing Castro

Lawrence Block is one of the true masters of modern fiction. Hard Case Crime has featured FIVE of his novels in their line-up. With good reason--he's one of the best. The HC January 2009 offering (number 51) made it to my hands last week and I just finished it. It was a riveting story of a rag-tag band of assassins hired to hit the big fella himself. The book was written in 1961, just after Castro came to power but before the Bay of Pigs. Mr. Block intersperses the story with historical narrative, long italicized chapters giving background on Batista, Cuba, the Revolution, etc. These portions of the book are as exciting and well-written as the fictional parts. This novel was first released as Fidel Castro Assassinated by "Lee Duncan." Apparently it has been out of print for decades. What strikes me about the whole thing is how well Block understood Castro and his revolution even then. The idealism and noble sentiments of the Castritas were as quickly and easily corrupted by power as were the notions of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution. I think Monsieur Robespierre and SeƱor Castro would have a lot to talk about. The most amazing thing, of course, is that Castro is STILL alive and STILL the dictator of Cuba! I doubt that anyone in 1961 believed that to be possible. Killing Castro is a not only a great piece of history, but a terrific crime novel as well. If you want to understand the appeal of what we call noir, suspense, crime fiction, and/or thriller, read Block. And sign up for the Hard Case Book Club while you're at it. (Now that I've "caught up " and read the entire Hard Case line, expect to see a monthly piece here at TPP on each new release.)

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