Block introduces the desperate man looking for a way out of his situation, the young man looking for vengeance, a cool professional assassin, a dying man with nothing left to lose, and a man who’s nothing more than a brutal animal. None of these characters are particularly well designed. At best, they’re serviceable. But the writer in me knows that Block was exploring different character types and a multilayered plot line.
Although fifty years have passed since the book’s initial publication, and the world political climate has definitely changed, Killing Castro serves as a quick and entertaining read, if not thoroughly engrossing the way Block’s books normally are these days. There aren’t any real surprises in the plot (our heroes really don’t succeed in killing Castro), but you can see glimpses of the writer Block will be in the way he handles the characterization, the conflict — internal and external — and the dialogue.
One of the interesting aspects of the book is the way Block handles the sex scenes. Before he became a successful mystery and suspense writer, Block wrote a lot of “men’s books.” Some of the vernacular and stage direction shows in his prose in this novel, and gave me a couple of chuckles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that style of writing show in any of his books outside of the Chip Harrison series. And if you haven’t read the Chip Harrison books, you’re in for something of a treat because Block does a great pastiche of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.
Killing Castro is a great little book for rainy day or a beach read. The outcome of the men’s efforts is already a foregone conclusion, but the changes that take place and the secrets that are revealed are definitely worth the read. If this is your first Lawrence Block novel, let it be an introduction to the greater things he’s accomplished in his career.