Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Killing Castro by Lawrence Block (Hard Case Crime)

There's been very little pattern in the schedule of recent publishing juggernaut Hard Case Crime. But for the third year in a row, each January has seen the reprinting of one of author Lawrence Block's "lost" novels originally published under pseudonyms. (I'm sure it doesn't hurt that Block's books — the line's inaugural release Grifter's Game, late 2005's The Girl with the Long Green Heart, and the new-year releases of 2007 and 2008, Lucky at Cards and A Diet of Treacle respectively — have been some of their best sellers.)

Ringing in 2009 is the (re)appearance of Killing Castro, which the Hard Case website touts as "the rarest of Block's books," almost 50 years after its first publication in 1961 (the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, just to put things in a chronological perspective) as Fidel Castro Assassinated by "Lee Duncan," a pseudonym Block used only for this book.

(Just to illustrate the genuine rarity of this particular book, on the day I wrote this review, there were no copies available for sale on either Amazon, Alibris, or eBay, and the one used copy on Abebooks was $600!)

Killing Castro introduces us to five men — Turner, Garrison, Garth, Fenton, and Hines — all hired for their own reasons at $20,000 each to kill the Cuban dictator who himself attained power by overthrowing the previous despot. The first chapter introduces the men, the second begins a bio of their target. Quickly we know who we're dealing with, and this pattern continues throughout the rest of the book, with alternating chapters focusing on the present and the past. It's a nice sort of flashback motif, and it works toward making Fidel Castro a sympathetic character, at least until he becomes the thing he's fighting against.

Block makes the reader care about everyone, at least about whether they'll live or die, and he elicits just the right amount of empathy. Despite the title, it's easy to make the assumption that Castro does not die in Killing Castro simply because he's still alive at this writing. This assumption puts a fatalistic spin on the actions of Turner, Garrison, Garth, Fenton, and Hines — how many of them will die? which ones will it be? — that ratchets the suspense a even higher than Block's prose does on its own.

Killing Castro is easily the equal of Block's previous Hard Case Crime reprints. Just like those, I wanted to be reading it every free moment. And just like those, it is guaranteed to bring a terrific reading experience, not only to the author's devoted fans, but to anyone who appreciates well-written hardboiled crime fiction.

1 comment:

ARCHAVIST said...

You can't find these in many UK bookshops - I've bought quite a few by mail order from Murder One. Love ths pulp look of these books.

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