Review of Killing Castro by Lawrence Block

September 20, 2009
Filed under: Aural Noir, Reviews 

Aural Noir: Review

Killing Castro is book number 051 in the Hard Case Crime library.

BBC Audiobooks America - Killing Castro by Lawrence BlockHard Case CrimeKilling Castro
By Lawrence Block; Read by Henry Leyva
4 CDs – Approx. 4 Hours 45 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America
Published: January 2009
ISBN: 9780792759751
Themes: / Thriller / Cuba / Hitman / Mercenaries / History / Assassination / Crime /

There were five of them, each prepared to kill, each with his own reasons for accepting what might well be a suicide mission. The pay? $20,000 apiece. The mission? Find a way into Cuba and kill Castro.

Until the announcement on the Hard Case Crime website in 2008 most Block aficionados, like me, had no idea that novel that is Killing Castro existed. Us Blockheads knew that LB had written a ton of novels early in his career. Heck we’d even identified quite a few of them. But unless you’d owned a copy of Fidel Castro Assassinated: A Dramatic Tale of a Daring and Successful Plot to Kill Cuba’s Dictator, and had compared this obscure 1961 Monarch paperback with Block’s writing you’d never have known he’d written it. This is because it was originally attributed to an otherwise unknown author “Lee Duncan.” Had it been written by “Paul Kavanagh” (a known Block pseudonym), I’d have already found and read a copy years ago. Indeed, to my ears this certainly feels like a lost fourth Paul Kavanagh novel. Two of Paul Kavanagh’s three other novels are about shady operatives doing black-ops for cash too. If you want the original paperback, by the way, ABEbooks.com currently lists a copy at $150.00. That’s down from the $600 asking price just a few months back. Hard Case Crime offers the gorgeous covered paperback version for just $7. Me, I’ll stick with the BBC Audiobooks America version.

One of the things I liked most about this audiobook, other than the brisk characterization and snappy plotting, was all the historical context Block put into the novel. This isn’t merely a thriller, or a crime story. Running just under 5 hours (204 pages in paperbook) there’s about half an hour of historical exposition between all the action. In those sections Block deftly details Fidel Castro’s personal biography, the history Batista’s rule of Cuba, Fidel’s leadership of the revolution and a thoughtful analysis of the revolution’s aftermath. As far as I can tell the history is entirely accurate. It sticks to the facts and makes a case both for and against Castro’s revolution without any special pleading. To my mind “Lee Duncan” could have probably got a job at the Cuba desk of the CIA, just based on the analysis within this novel. They really could have used him too as the book originally came out the same year as the CIA-backed Bay Of Pigs invasion. But I guess the covert world’s loss is our literary gain.

This is the first time I’ve heard Henry Leyva as a narrator. He performs the American mercenaries with enough distinction to tell all five of them apart, and gives good voice to two Cuban rebels, one male, one female. As Leyva is fluent in both English and Spanish he brings a ton of authenticity to the Cuban accented anti-castristas. He really is a narrator to watch. I first heard him as an actor performing in an episode of J. Michael Straczynski’s excellent audio drama anthology series City Of Dreams. He’s also narrated the audiobook version of Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard, so I’m gonna have to get my hands on that audiobook too.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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