Tuesday, February 25, 2020

18. Flight from a Firing Wall by Baynard Kendrick

I should have read the introduction.  Actually, it is probably for the better that I didn't.  I had two major problems with this book, one that I noticed right from the beginning but got used to and the other that I started to pick up on as I read and that got worse and worse until the end and basically made me decide I did not enjoy it.

It is the story of a Cuban expat doctor, Antonio Carillo in Miami in 1960, with his heart and his wife still back in Cuba.  He is part of an anti-Castro/Communism Cuban society that is also funded by the CIA and other agencies, though portrayed very neutrally as just an old guy with a pipe who is playing cloak and dagger (this neutrality should have set my alarm bells off).  Carillo gets a call from a beautiful Cuban woman who wants him to meet a boat to treat a sick passenger, whom Carillo guesses immediately is a Cuban refugee.  What he doesn't guess and is floored by is when he goes to the boat and discovers that the refugee is his father-in-law, high-ranking member of the secret police who betrayed Castillo and his daughter when they tried to flee.  Castillo escaped with two bullet holes but left his wife behind, not knowing if she was alive or dead.

The first problem that I encountered was the dialogue. Castillo's mother was American and he went to a prep school in Connecticut, so it was reasonable that he would be perfectly bilingual and speak colloquial english. The english he used just sounded totally wrong, a mix of John D. MacDonald-esque early 60s clever speak and cliched hard-boiled private eye wisecracks.  There was a lot of verbiage in general that made reading it slow-going and then so many metaphors and wise cracks that you felt disconnected.  Worse, though, two Cuban expats speaking a mix of Spanish and English spoke like a bunch of camp counsellors in upstate New York.  It just didn't sound realistic.  I've met and hunt out with several perfectly bilingual Cuban-Americans and they do not talk like that.

So back to the story.  In a somewhat convoluted way, Castillo decides to sneak back into Cuba, to both bring medicine to a sick leader of the underground resistance to Castro's regime and to find and rescue his wife, or at least die with her.  It is a nice setup and the details of the trip via boat to Cuba and sneaking back into such a controlled environment undercover and through the underground network was somewhat fun.  Now the second problem becomes apparent. This book was not written for the adventure or the pleasure of the fiction.  It was written to portray communist Cuba as a total nightmare place of atrocity and fear.  It is telling in the introduction, that all his research was done with government agencies and Cuban refugee groups.  Worse, he states that the descriptions of Cuba itself "are from the author's pleasant memories of many trips there dating back to 1954."

Weird that he only went there pre-revolution and somehow seems to that Cuba is a place of terror and privation.  I definitely do not think Cuba was some paradise and Kendrick himself is critical of Batista regime in the early part of the book, but this just feels like a propaganda job.  It is laid on so thick that by the end, I was totally disconnected and just wanted it to end.  Not an enjoyable ride, unfortunately.

One neat thing about this edition.  You will notice the "A Special Inner Sanctum Mystery" at the bottom of the front cover.  It turns out that Simon & Schuster originated the Inner Sanctum concept as an imprint for their favourite books.  At first it included several genres, but then they sponsored the Inner Sanctum radio show and focused it on suspense and mystery books.  Part of the deal of their sponsorship was that one of their books had to be promoted at the end of the show.

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