Who was really behind JFK's '1962 triumph in the Cuban missile crisis? And who, five years later, sent Che Guevara to his death in Bolivia? Would you believe Blackford Oakes? Well, believe it or not, Buckley's latest historical whimsy takes CIA-hero Oakes to Havana in late 1961—as JFK's hand-picked emissary for a secret diplomacy-mission: to negotiate with Che for the lifting of the US embargo on Cuba. . . in return for Cuba's promise to keep its communist hands off the rest of Latin America. A hopeless mission? Not necessarily: Che is genuine in his distaste for the Cuba/USSR connection, his belief in revolution only from within. Meanwhile, however, tricky Nikita Khrushchev has convinced Castro that another US invasion-attempt is imminent (untrue), that Cuba therefore needs quick installation of Soviet missiles (for "defensive strategic capability"). Castro therefore orders Che to pretend to be seriously negotiating with Oakes, stringing out the talks in order to delay the supposed US invasion. . . while the USSR missiles are slowly, secretly being installed. And so nine months later, in July 1962, Oakes is indeed still a quasi-prisoner in Havana—meeting sporadically with the smelly yet impressive Che, getting guided tours of Cuba, having an affair with Che's interpreter Catalina, and developing a deep friendship with his own CIA interpreter Cecilio Velasco (a small, 60-ish, ex-KGB super-agent). But then, as the action shifts from give-and-take to derring-do, Oakes (thanks to Catalina) gets a firsthand glimpse of a USSR missile installation! He and Catalina are promptly arrested, tried, sentenced to death as spies; soon rescued by Cecilio, they set off via yacht for Florida and radio the Top Secret to JFK—before being recaptured by a Cuban patrol-boat. And though Oakes will eventually be brought safely home by the grateful JFK (who manages to transform a super-gaffe into a global victory), he loses both of his beloved friends to Cuban ruthlessness. . . with an opportunity for vengeance coming five years later in Bolivia. As usual, Buckley offers sly, irreverent, revisionist vignettes of political history here: the interior monologues of flaky JFK (more convincing than the cartoony ones in The Story of Henri Tod); dialogue along the lines of "Cut it out, Che, Nkrumah has been kissing communist ass for three years." But, while less crisply paced than some previous Oakes outings (lots of Cuba-tour padding), this is Buckley's most successful attempt to shade his fanciful thriller-comedy into more serious matters of love, loyalty, and honor—in Oakes' involving relationships with Catalina, Cecilio. . . and, above all, Che himself.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 1985

ISBN: 1888952512

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...


A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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