Ghosts of Havana

ghosts-of-havana, Todd MossWritten by Todd Moss — The long tail of the failed American invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs swings around to sting a married couple in this present-day political thriller – third in a series by former US State Department diplomat Todd Moss.

With his insider’s background, Moss believably portrays the interdepartmental rivalries inside the Washington Beltway, where high-stakes diplomacy faces off against the less, shall we say, conventional means of asserting American interests deployed by the rival Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The protagonist is former Amherst College professor Judd Ryker. He has developed a political theory suggesting that, in times of a country’s destabilisation – whether because of natural calamity or military coup or political upheaval – quick US intervention can help mold the new status quo to fit American interests. He’s been brought into the State Department to create a one-man Crisis Reaction Unit. In other words, he must put his theory to the test. This set-up assures you’ll have a fast-paced story.

Not surprisingly, the State Department’s career diplomats are not interested in this outsider’s theories and do all they can, by foot-dragging and outright sabotage, to ensure he fails.

Judd’s wife Jessica has what he has been led to believe is a post working on international relief. As this book opens, she has just revealed that she works for the CIA. In fact, she heads the agency’s super-secret Purple Cell. Purple operates with total independence, outside normal reporting channels, and is available for various tricky problem-solving tasks around the world.

Now that Jessica’s responsibilities are out in the open, the couple have agreed on three fundamentals going forward: they will assist each other whenever possible; they will avoid working on the same problem whenever they can; and they will admit to each other when a situation arises that they cannot follow through with assist or avoid. Relevant to all three of these is a commitment to always tell each other the truth, even though at times they may need to keep their employers’ secrets. Like so many principles, articulating them turns out to be easier than living them.

Within three days, Jessica counts up at least eight lies she’s told Judd already. Yet, at the same time, he’s reassuring her that he’s in his State Department office, when he’s actually headed to Gauntánamo Bay Naval Base to meet with the shadowy director of Cuban intelligence.

Cuba’s top leaders are elderly. Sick too. There’s every reason to believe that a moment of disruption – of the kind Judd believes is ripe for positive intervention – is imminent. His State Department boss shares this assessment and asks Judd to make sure the pieces are in place. A trip to Cuba is the first step, though the stated reason for the meeting is to extricate four Americans caught on a fishing boat in Cuban waters.

They say they were hunting bonefish, so it’s lucky they dumped overboard their two M-16s, the AR-15, and several pistols before the Cuban navy seized the boat. The situation is further muddied when the Rykers learn two of the detainees are descendants of Bay of Pigs participants. While it isn’t clear what they were up to, US politicians waste no time in grandstanding about the Cuban action.

Throughout, Moss does a great job in showing the discrepancy between the way events are played for the public and the reality of the situation as Judd and Jessica perceive it. It’s enough to make you look at the nightly news with an even more skeptical eye!

Jessica’s efforts to probe the background and motives of the detainees bring her in contact with some pretty dicey characters. Thankfully, the woman has massive skills. She is fearless and a lot of fun to read.

Short chapters and multiple points-of-view keep this plot moving over the novel’s five-day period, and its multiple locales in Washington, DC, Florida, and Cuba, with a brief interlude in Angola. All of these places and bureaucratic and beach subcultures are effectively described, with a sharp, up-to-the-minute feel in terms of crazy politics, self-serving politicos, and mainstream diplomatic strategists trying to keep the lid on.

We’ve also reviewed Minute Zero, from the same series.

GP Putnam’s Sons
Print/Kindle/iBook
£11.39

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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