It’s 1961, the Bay of Pigs is just around the corner and suddenly Havana is hit-man heaven.
Smart, tough, charismatic Fidel Castro is the Cuban people’s choice. Everyone else, it begins to seem, has chosen him for their enemy’s list. The CIA wants him dead, as does the Mafia. Surprisingly enough, so does the KGB, for reasons too darkly geopolitical to clarify here. At any rate, Havana has become a convention center for cold-blooded killers. Into this mean-spirited mélange wanders Professor Mikhail Lammeck, historian and world-class expert in assassination. Well, not wanders exactly—Lammeck is there because he’s convinced that a Castro assassination is inevitable, and that his new book will profit immeasurably from his having borne witness. All this makes him interesting to Bud Calendar of the CIA’s Special Operations Division—a polite label for hit man. Agent Calendar’s current objective is the untimely demise of Castro, and he makes no bones about it. To this end, he intends to recruit Lammeck whether he likes it or not. Say no, Lammeck is warned, and be prepared to endure a variety of humiliating/painful/life-altering experiences. Lammeck caves. But Havana is a place where alliances are things of the moment, and betrayal, as the title suggests, is the name of the game. At times, Calendar will betray Lammeck, who will betray Calendar, who has already betrayed the Mafia, and is ever prepared to betray anyone who doesn’t carry the CIA’s imprimatur. As for Castro—despite bullets, bombs, poisons and the like—he continues somehow to stand defiant.
With so much betraying going on, the author finds himself forced to explain and explicate at length, generating the kind of yada-yada that stops a suspense novel dead in its tracks. Robbins (The Assassins Gallery, 2006, etc.) has done better work.