A young man becomes a contractor for the CIA in this action-adventure tale.
As a 13-year-old in the 1960s, Eli Rose watches I Love Lucy, wanders the Miami streets and hangs out at the Gayety Burlesque. There he meets the polished, moneyed Vicente Amarón—the man has ties to organized crime, but Eli still wants to be like “Mr. Slick.” After Eli’s father dies, he learns that he is now accountable for a business loan from the mob and payback will come through his participation in a reckless mission, financed by anti-Castro mobster Morgenthal. Vicente becomes Eli’s mentor, teaching him, among other things, how to read people. After graduating college, Eli accepts employment at an import-export firm, and his connections are exploited by those whose faith in La Lucha—the struggle to free Cuba of communism—never falters. Soon Eli meets Robert “The Redhead” Jasper, a loose cannon who brandishes a .45 and bonds with Eli through a blood ritual. On orders from Morgenthal, Eli, Jasper and Vicente depart for Cuba and nonstop action ensues until the book’s final page. Some nice turns-of-phrase establish the setting—“The air was thick with the smell of jasmine and rotting trees, and it clung to Eli like clear syrup.” Eli is appealing, particularly in his relationship with father-figure Vicente, but as complex characters, Vicente and Jasper outweigh Eli. The young man’s allegiances may be misplaced, and at times he responds as if he is numb, in spite of the carnage around him. His driving force is “kill or be killed”—not the most original credo in the world, but understandable when body parts are flying. Pacing is brisk, but not breakneck, with tension building to an eventual face-off between Eli and Jasper—just how crazy is Jasper, and how far will he go? Although Eli confronts danger in various venues, readers never doubt that he’ll survive for at least two more books in the series, removing some dramatic tension. In future installments, Eli needs to evolve more, and command center stage.
A gritty action tale with a central character who’s less compelling than those in his orbit.