KILLING CASTRO by Lawrence Block

Book Quote:

“Garrison’s eyes opened. He grinned. He was an American businessman on vacation, a real estate speculator who occasionally took a taxi to look at a piece of property. He stayed in a top hotel, ate at good restaurants, tipped a shade too heavily, drank a little too much, and didn’t speak a damned word of Spanish. Hardly an assassin, or a secret agent, or anything of the sort. They searched his room, of course, but this happened regularly in every Latin American country. It was a matter of form. Actually, it tended to reassure him, since they searched so clumsily that he knew they were not afraid of him. Otherwise, they would take pains to be more subtle.

He stood up, naked and hard-muscled, and walked to his window. He’d been careful to get a room with a window facing on the square. The square was the Plaza of the Republica, a small park surrounding the Palace of Justice. Parades with Fidel at their head made their way up a broad avenue to the plaza. Then Fidel would speak, orating wildly and magnificently from the steps of the palace. From the window Garrison could see those steps.

With the rifle properly mounted on the window ledge, he could place a bullet in Fidel’s open mouth….”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie (APR 30, 2009)

From the moment Fidel Castro made the choice to wage war against the dictatorial government of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista and to begin the Cuban Revolution, his life was in constant jeopardy. There were the perils of guerrilla warfare in the Sierra Maestra mountains, post revolution dangers from those he deposed, civilian and military, Cuban and US, plantation owners and crime bosses, who so profited under Batista. Then there were the numerous CIA attempts to kill Castro with poison pills, toxic cigars and exploding mollusks. Rumor has it that the dictator once even volunteered to kill himself. He was joking, of course. For nearly half a century, the CIA, Cuban exiles, and heaven knows who else, have been trying to devise ways to assassinate el Presidente.

However, Lawrence Block did not know this when he wrote Killing Castro. The book was originally published by Monarch in 1961 as “Fidel Castro Assassinated.” Block used the pseudonym Lee Duncan, a moniker adopted for this novel alone.

Killing Castro is as much about the journeys, literal and figurative, of five men, as it is about an assassination. Five Americans are offered twenty thousand dollars apiece to kill Castro. That was really a lot of money back in 1961. The loot is to be collected after the fact. Every one of the five has different reasons for slipping into Cuba and risking his life to kill a man relatively unknown to them, except for the media, stories from Cuban exiles, and government statements. It is, after all, only 1961, two years into the revolution and shortly before the Cuban missile crisis. Each man’s journey, his motivations and outcome, are what is really exciting and unexpected here. All of these characters are changed by this deadly adventure.

Then one wonders who or what entity is behind the operation? Impoverished Cuban refugees could hardly have scraped together one hundred thousand dollars. So, “who was financing the assassination? Tobacco and sugar planters? Oil refiners? Batista fascists hungry to regain power? Americans unwilling to tolerate a Communist nation ninety miles offshore?”

Interspersed between the narrative are italicized chapters which provide a historical perspective on Castro and the reasons he became involved in the politics of revolution. The history of the man, his years as a student and young revolutionary, are absolutely fascinating – especially as the changes which occur in him are contrasted with those which take place in his prospective killers. However, there are occasions when the author, through the voice of the omniscient observer, makes certain points and allegations which are way too subjective for omniscience and border on editorializing. I think Block would have been more credible had he used one of his characters to express these personal political views.

I really enjoyed Killing Castro, and although it is far from the author’s best work, it certainly makes for an entertaining read.

Kudos to Hard Case Crime for making this most rare of Lawrence Block’s thrillers available.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 15 readers
PUBLISHER: Hard Case Crime; Reprint edition (December 30, 2008)
REVIEWER: Jana L. Perskie
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Lawrence Block
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our reviews of:

Hope to Die (Matt Scudder series)
Small Town
The Burglar on the Prowl (Bernie Rhodenbarr series)
Grifter’s Game (Hard Case Crime)
All the Flowers are Dying (Matt Scudder series)
Girl with the Long Green Heart (Hard Case Crime)
Hit Parade (John Keller series)
Lucky at Cards (Hard Case Crime)
Hit and Run (John Keller series)
A Diet of Treacle (Hard Case Crime)
A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Matt Scudder series)


Hard Case Crimes reprints:

Matthew Scudder Mysteries

Keller Series:

Bernie Rhodenbarr Mysteries (reprinted 2006)

Evan Tanner Mysteries (reprinted in 2007):

Writing as Paul Kavanagh


Movies from Books:

  • Nightmare Honeymoon (based on Deadly Honeymoon)
  • Eight Million Ways to Die (1985)
  • Burglar (loosely based on The Burglar in the Closet) (1987)
  • Keller (based on Hit Man)
  • A Walk Among the Tombstones

April 30, 2009 В· Judi Clark В· 3 Comments
Tags: , , ,  В· Posted in: Cuba, Noir, Thriller/Spy/Caper, y Award Winning Author

3 Responses

  1. eli.b.ativa - June 18, 2009

    I enjoyed the book, but was a bit perplexed by the ambiguous ending. I would like Ms. Perskie to share her views about the ending. Thank you.

  2. Jana Perskie - August 2, 2009

    Hi – I am so sorry to have taken so long to get back to you RE: your comment and question, but I have been away on vacation without a PC…some peace and quiet is what I needed. ;>

    About your question…I’m not sure I can enter into a discussion on this book at this time. I read “Killing Castro” earlier this year. I read about 1-3 books each week and unless I am reading a truly “great” novel, I do forget all but the most basic of plots. For me, “KILLING CASTRO” was a light read… one of those that I enjoyed while reading it, but not one that has stayed with me outside of a few images here and there. Also, since this is one of Block’s earliest books, (not even published under his own name), I wasn’t too critical about any flaws in the novel. But let me ask you this, what exactly do find ambiguous about the ending? I am really interested, and I hope that your response will trigger my memory. Thanks for reading and commenting on my review, and for following All best, Jana Perskie

  3. eli.b.ativa - March 4, 2010

    I apologize for taking even longer to respond.

    I refer to the following: One of the assassins was holed up in a hotel room that overlooked the place where Castro was to address the masses. He decided not to go through with it and heads to the airport where his mistress is to join him on his return flight to the States. Only, there is no indication of what transpires once he gets to the airport. Is the woman there? Is he able to escape? The book ends with: “He opened the door,” referring to the airport terminal, and that’s it, no clue whatsoever as to what happens. The reader is left flat-footed.

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