Robbins’s sixth posthumous novel finds new co-writer Podrug outwriting the hormonal old ghost, as was the case with Sin City (2002).
Each of these postmortal works demands a handful of outrageously vulgar scenes to lend a juicy Robbins scent to the whole, and The Betrayers has its pubic pinks. The occupation Podrug digs into here is making vodka, with greed as the usual Robbins subtheme. And as in Podrug’s Presumed Guilty (1997), the hero has a Russian background. Nicholas Cutter is the son of an English communist who marries a Russian communist then finds himself at the mercy of Hitler’s thugs in the early ’30s in Berlin. The parents wind up back in Leningrad, where the father is murdered by Stalin and the mother dies during the siege of Leningrad. Nick, meanwhile, learns about the making of potato vodka. In 1949, he sails to British Honduras and is taken in by his beautiful aunt Sarah and her abusive husband, who run a sugarcane plantation. Nick gets into the black market for Mayan relics and also finds a use for blackstrap molasses: making vodka. Later, he goes to Colombia, takes over the plantation of widow Sarita Garcia, devises a vodka that supposedly boosts sexual prowess, and begins selling it throughout the Caribbean and in Boston. A trip to Havana enfolds him in glamour, and he wants to move his alcohol operation there, now making premium rum. But the Castro takeover forces him to set up his stills in the Dominican Republic, where he falls in love and lives with Luz, the most beautiful woman in the country. Then the dictator Trujillo, impotent from a prostate operation, uses Luz to bring him young girls for his sexual pleasure as a voyeur, watching women make love. But when Trujillo is assassinated, Luz is seen as an assassin.
Podrug’s strong, crisp style excels at description, particularly in the Russian scenes.