In this muddled follow-up to 2006's engaging The Assassins Game, Robbins attempts to create suspense by revisiting the multiple attempts made on Fidel Castro's life in the early 1960s. Professor Mikhal Lammeck-an expert on political murder-arrives in Cuba on the eve of the much-rumored U.S.-supported invasion at the Bay of Pigs, but soon finds himself transformed from detached academic into participant. Thrust into this murky world of double-crossings and shadowy government missions, Lammeck becomes privy to a conspiracy involving a former U.S. marine sharpshooter. Robbins has set himself a daunting task in maintaining tension and interest when the reader knows Castro will survive. Unfortunately, the author doesn't manage to overcome the challenges he sets for himself, and his efforts to weave together fictional characters and historical events are heavy-handed at best. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Betrayal Gameby David L. Robbins
Can one man make history—and can another change it with a single bullet? It was a question that Professor Mikhal Lammeck had devoted his life to/i>/b>
The breathtaking new thriller by suspense master David L. Robbins of a conspiracy so explosive, it could only be told as fiction. You know only half the story. Now the other half will blow you away.
Can one man make history—and can another change it with a single bullet? It was a question that Professor Mikhal Lammeck had devoted his life to answering. An expert on history’s great political assassinations, he’s come to Havana in the spring of 1961 to seek the answer firsthand. For the more he sees of Cuba’s charismatic revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, the more he’s convinced that he’s witnessing that rarest anomaly: the man who can change history…and who therefore must be murdered.
The wild CIA plots, the treacherous double crosses, the near- miraculous escapes, are already legendary, but it seems as if Castro’s number is finally up. With a massive U.S.-backed invasion of the island looming, a trap has been set that not even Castro can escape. The players of this deadly assassination game are as varied as they are lethal—organized-crime figures, CIA agents, the Cuban underground, even a reclusive American billionaire. And now, perhaps most unlikely of all, a distinguished history professor.
Mikhal Lammeck is thrust dead-center between a Cuban secret-police captain and a chillingly amoral American CIA agent. It’s a devil’s bargain, one that Lammeck has no choice but to accept, and it will give him unprecedented access to the secret history of one of the twentieth century’s greatest coups. Lammeck suddenly finds himself no longer only studying history, but making it. He soon becomes the unwilling mentor of a young man who’s arrived in Cuba—a confused marine sharpshooter determined to become the century’s most infamous assassin.
Seamlessly blending history and fiction into an electrifying page-turner, The Betrayal Game is that rarest of all thrillers—a novel so vividly real, it might very well be true.
From the Hardcover edition.
In the first Mikhal Lemmeck novel, The Assassins Gallery, Lemmeck was assigned to head off the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In this slow-moving and excessively talky novel, 16 years have passed, and Lemmeck, though overweight and overage, is still just as lethal. Robbins attempts to capture the complex schemes brewing in postrevolutionary Cuba. By 1961, Castro had been the target of numerous assassination attempts but had foiled them all. Now enter Lemmeck and the CIA, as the countdown to the Bay of Pigs begins. Robbins's richly drawn characters include spies, mafiosi, and ordinary Cubans trying to live their lives. He does an excellent job creating background for the historical and political reasons so many people and nations wanted Castro dead. What's lacking, however, is the tense and exciting spirit of the chase that this book's predecessor conveyed. In Assassins, we knew that FDR died, but how-Nazi poison or natural causes? Here, contrastingly, readers know that Castro lives. Also, a major historical knockout punch is badly telegraphed. For larger collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/1/07.]
"David L. Robbins aims his unique lens at one of the most riveting and contentious subjects in American history—the attempted overthrow of Fidel Castro. With style and pace, Robbins spins an eminently believable tale of the intricate plots and desperate operatives pitched against the spread of communism. A triumph."—Kyle Mills, author of Darkness Falls and The Second Horseman
"The action is exciting and the pace furious"—Baltimore Sun
‘This is heart-racing fare with a neat, and unexpected final twist…. What especially distinguishes the story is its protagonist, Dr. Mikhal Lammeck, an authority on assassination.”—Richmond Times Dispatch
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March 7, 1961 Bahia de Cabañas Cuba
The older brother moved first. More competitive, faster, he grabbed his swim fins, mask, and spear from the backseat. He dashed down the slope. The younger one hooted after him, not caring so much to win a race to the water. He knew his luck ran better; he would catch the most fish, as always.
“Rodrigo!” his brother called to him up the hill. He walked carefully, barefoot over the limestones and scraggy shells. “Slowpoke!” Manuelito made a show of putting on his mask and fins at the water’s edge. He held up the spear, then splashed ahead. Rodrigo watched his brother kick, chopping froth behind his fins, to be first into the bay.
Rodrigo sat unconcerned in the sand. He wet the fins to slide them on better and spit into his mask. He stepped into the water, pleased at the flatness of the surface today. The sun shone from straight above, the visibility underwater would be ideal.
Rodrigo walked until the water rose to his knees. He kneeled forward and let his buoyancy take over, then propelled himself with a kick of the fins. He gazed down and ahead; the shelf of sand fell off quickly to deeper water, to the small coral reef only fifty meters from shore that was off-limits.
Schools of yellowtail and blue creole wrasses swam to meet him with curiosity. When Rodrigo offered nothing of interest, they dispersed. He paddled along the surface watching the sand bottom slope away. When the depth reached eight meters, the outskirts of the reef began to appear, small brain coral heads and elkhorn coral, sea whips and sea fans. Rodrigo and Lito did not know this reef so well as the ones of Bahia Honda fifteen kilometers west. Those were closer to their home and not the private preserve of Fidel Castro. But the boys had speared wonderful Nassau grouper in this place twice before, and had not been caught or bothered by anyone. They decided to come again today, a perfect day.
Staying on the surface, Rodrigo kicked until the reef beneath him grew denser. The tops of the coral lay ten meters below him, the sand bottom three meters more. He swam a wide circle, looking for Lito. For minutes he did not see his brother; Lito was the stronger swimmer and could stay down fantastically long. But Rodrigo had eyes for movement, a knowledge for fish his brother could not match. While Lito thrashed about on the bottom, lunging into holes, chasing, and stabbing, Rodrigo cruised, quiet and belonging on the reef, until his spear betrayed his intent.
He saw bubbles dribble out of the coral. Lito was in a crevice, chasing something. His brother emerged empty-handed, cheeks puffed with the last of his lungs. He did not speak when he surfaced beside Rodrigo but only gulped air, then propelled himself again to the bottom. Upside down, Lito looked up to Rodrigo and held his hands apart, to imply a medium-sized grouper.
Rodrigo drew a deep breath and dove. He kicked easily, wasting no motion or air. He settled on the sand beneath a jagged brow of the coral. Here in the blue depth the greens and aquas muddied to gray, orange faded toward bilious brown, and when a spear caught a fish in the heart, the brilliance of blood was never more than rust.
Rodrigo waited, releasing no bubbles. He held himself on the bottom with a hand gentle on the reef, to break nothing. He listened to the grinding rustle of sand on the other side of the coral wall where his brother worked to corner his grouper. Rodrigo stayed patient, knowing Lito might spook something out of the reef his way.
He exhaled a slow stream of bubbles to ease his lungs. Smaller denizens of the reef came to investigate—some grunts too little to take, a spider crab peeked at him then retreated. Rodrigo peered into the shadows at the bottom of the coral to be certain no morays lived there.
A burst of Lito’s bubbles boiled out of the coral. A metallic thud sounded. Lito had loosed his spear but the noise was metal striking rock. Lito had missed. Rodrigo caught a flutter to his left; a grouper sped into the open trailing frightened puffs of feces. He watched his brother rise out of a crack in the reef, loose spear dangling at the end of its tether. Lito reeled the lance in and kicked to the surface for a quick breath. Rodrigo loaded his spear in his own hand, pulling the long shaft back, stretching the rubber belt anchored around his wrist.
That moment, a large blackfin snapper ambled around the corner of the coral head not two meters from Rodrigo’s fins. The fish had seen Lito, had watched the grouper escape, and decided to follow suit while the predator was away. Rodrigo rolled to his side, swinging the spear into play before the snapper could react. He let go the long shaft, the sling launched the spear forward; the tip pierced the snapper just behind the gills. The fish went crazy. Blood inked the water in the ragged circle the snapper danced, tugging the lanyard at Rodrigo’s wrist. He hauled the fish in, grabbed the still shivering lance, and showed it to Lito who was nearing the surface. His brother shook a fist down at him. Rodrigo had struck first.
Lito took a breath and headed back down. Rodrigo kicked to the surface, to take the snapper to shore to put it in the cooler in the car. A small barracuda arrived to watch, keeping its distance, intrigued by the blood.
The snapper weighed on Rodrigo’s arm. It flicked its fins, desperate to get off the barbed tip of the spear. Rodrigo felt every spasm of the dying fish through the shaft. He lifted his head above water to take a breath and look to shore.
A man stood in the sand on the edge of the water.
The man saw him and waved both arms. He was big, stout in a green guayabera and khakis. He wore something around his neck, sunglasses. No, binoculars.
Rodrigo lifted his mask to see better. He snorted to clear his ears, then heard what the man was yelling at him.
“Get out of the water!”
Rodrigo licked his lips, salty. Under the surface, the snapper struggled.
“Fidel!” the man shouted, pointing at the road.
Rodrigo raised a hand, to say he had heard and understood. He pulled the mask back over his eyes. The snapper wriggled, refusing to die. Rodrigo took a deep breath and dove to fetch his brother. There would be trouble if they were caught fishing in Fidel’s private cove. Of all the mala suerte.
He spotted Lito on the bottom, on the trail of the grouper. Rodrigo could not catch up to his brother quickly if he dragged this snapper along. He couldn’t wait for Lito to surface; his brother could stay down minutes—too long, with Fidel on the way. Without regret, he pushed down the barb and slid the fish off the lance. The snapper fooled itself that it was free and kicked once. That exhausted it; the fish rolled over dead.
Rodrigo surfaced, to move faster and put himself above his brother. Below, Lito crept hand over hand along the reef, not as sensitive as Rodrigo to the life of the coral, thinking only of the grouper. Unseen to Lito, his grouper scampered out the other side of the coral, staying low across the sand flat.
Rodrigo kicked hard. If they were found here, there was no telling what Fidel would do to them. Fidel was a man of the people, a revolutionary, but he liked his sport and this was his reef, everyone knew that. The brothers might be taken out of school and put in jail, they might have to serve in the militia. They could lose their father’s car. Rodrigo had no more time to count his fears; his brother was swimming over the top of the reef, suspecting now where the grouper had fled. Rodrigo, fighting to control his breathing after the fast swim over the surface, took a breath and dove.
Lito was in the sand flat now, on his knees staring after the grouper, deciding whether to give chase again. Rodrigo saw him shrug and look up. Lito had still not seen him.
Rodrigo figured his brother was about to rise. Instead Lito turned his mask downward again, at the sand. Just a few meters to his right, a perfect conch shell lay in the open, the pink of its belly so bright the water could steal little of its hue. Lito flattened on the bottom and flipped his fins to glide to the shell. Rodrigo hovered behind and ten meters above, worried. This wasn’t the time, with Castro bearing down on them, for his brother to be collecting shells.
Lito set his hand on the conch. Rodrigo, without a full breath in his lungs, considered surfacing to see if they were already caught. Before turning for the surface, Rodrigo admired the shell his brother had found; it was large, filling Lito’s hand lifting it.
An explosion ripped out of the sand. Rodrigo erupted away in a torrent of foam and mad water. He was catapulted past the surface of the bay into the air, his mask torn away, the fins gone. He landed on his back still holding the spear, but he let that go and it trailed away on its tether. He brought his hands to his head, to quell the pounding in his ears, behind his eyes, from the pressure of the blast. He could not shake off the black dots in his vision. What had happened? What had Lito touched? Rodrigo opened his mouth wide and, with pain, drew in all the breath he could hold to dive for his brother.
Without his mask, the water was a confusion. Whipped-up sand clouded what little he could discern. Rodrigo panicked. He kicked for the surface, gasping. He looked at the water he treaded in and saw the brown stain. He screamed, “Lito! Lito!”
A stinking mist hovered on the surface. Rodrigo kicked to lift himself higher, to see and shout through the haze. Dead fish bobbed to the surface. He thought to yell for help, and spun around to face the shore. The man who’d called to him was gone.
Rodrigo turned back to the open bay, fighting tears. The water began to settle from its terrible roiling. The shock that struck first in his chest swelled into his arms and legs with the pricks of needles.
Through stuffed ears, he heard a splash. His eyes flashed across the surface. In the haze, twenty meters off, a hand rose, then dropped.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
David L. Robbins is the bestselling author of War of the Rats, Liberation Road, Last Citadel, Scorched Earth, The End of War, and Souls to Keep. He divides his time between Richmond and his sailboat on the Chesapeake bay. He is currently writer in residence at his alma mater, the College of William and Mary.
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Very interesting story set in a well researched early Castro Cuba.
Whenever a new Robbins book is released do yourself a big favor and buy it as soon as you can get to the bookstore. He never fails to deliver.
In March 1961, Professor Mikhal Lammeck, an expert on the history of political assassination, arrives in Cuba to witness first hand the murder of the charismatic new president Fidel Castro. He has heard the same rumors that is all over the small Communist nation the American CIA is sponsoring a rebel invasion soon with Castro expected to be killed. He is here to witness first hand his theory that a bullet can change the path of the future.------------- Arriving detached as an academic watcher, over the next few weeks Mikhal finds Castro to be dynamic, charming, and fearless as several failed attempts on the Communist¿s life has already occurred Mikhal begins to believe the man could prove a force for change not just in Cuba. However, the professor also becomes knowledgeable of a former US Marine sniper either on the island or coming to Cuba the only reason this American would be here is to squeeze one bullet into Castro¿s head. Unable to stay outside the fishbowl he has been observing, a no longer unattached Mikhal dives in to try to save Castro¿s life.-------------- This is an interesting historical fiction that looks closely at events starting six weeks before and culminating with the Kennedy equivalent to ¿slam dunk¿, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. The story line is action-packed from the moment the countdown to April 17, 1961, but tension is lacking due to one insurmountable problem with the premise: readers know Castro survived that coup d¿etat and almost fifty years later has outlasted several presidents. Still this is a fine follow up to the exciting The Assassins Game just no as suspenseful.---------------- Harriet Klausner