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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

Mongoose: R.I.P.

By William F. Buckley, Jr.
Random House, 322 pp, 1987

This is the eighth book in the Blackford Oakes series. It is longer and more ambitious than the previous seven, but I don't know if it's better.

Buckley takes us back in time to a few months after See You Later, Alligator. JFK is still obsessed with killing Castro, and rightly so. The CIA has an ongoing operation to do just that, but every scheme it implements fails badly.

So JFK get Rufus on the case, who naturally calls on Blackford Oakes and Anthony Trust. Trust doesn't have much of a role, though. Blackford is dispatched to Miami to connect with a member of the Cuban resistance movement, who claims to have a high-level source close to Castro. This high-level source plans to kill the commie pinko.

And then there is Sally, who does something Blackford never expected. Throw in a KGB operative, a Soviet major who secretly defects to Cuba for personal reasons, and a rogue missile left in Cuba after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and you've got a taut, enjoyable read.

But this book stands out from the other Oakes novels for two reasons. First, this may be the first time in which Oakes has sex with no woman other than Sally. That by itself is amazing.

Second, Blackford is not much of a presence. Buckley spends a lot of time and pages on other characters. In fact, these secondary characters dictate events and play more of a role than Blackford does. In the end, when the crisis hits critical mass, Oakes is barely more than a spectator.

I think that's a big no-no. It's a standard rule that the protagonist should play a pivotal, if not THE pivotal, role in the eventual outcome. Rules are made to be broken, of course, especially in the literary world, but if you're going to break rules, you'd better do it well. In other words, what you come up with should be darn good to justify the rule-breaking.

In this case, Buckley does not do this. Blackford is the hero. He should not be a passive actor and allow other, lesser characters dictate events. But that's what Buckley does.

So I enjoyed reading the book, but was disappointed with the end. We'll see what the next one is like.

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