Outcast

[Amazon Link]

This is how out-of-control my to-be-read pile can get: I saw this book (written in 1999) recommended somewhere, but that source is lost in the mist of time. ('Twas probably in a "hardcore right-wing radical" publication or website, see below.) Sometime after that, I must have found it on a remainder table somewhere, because there's a "Retail $24.00/Our Price $5.00" sticker on the front. And, now, finally…

Don't let my procrastination mislead you, it's good. The author, José Latour, is sort of a Cuban Elmore Leonard. He was a dedicated functionary in the Communist bureaucracy for years, becoming a full-time writer in 1990. He then got in a spot of trouble for writing a book (The Fool) that fictionalized the actual corruption in Cuban government. This book, Outcast, was his first effort written in English, and he got it published outside Cuba. Eventually, "seking creative fiction and fearing dictatorial repression", José moved to Spain in 2002 and now lives in Canada.

This book's hero, Elliot Stiel, is a lowly English teacher in Havana. His professional life is constrained by the perception that he's politically unreliable. He's divorced, drinks too much, going through the motions, waiting for the undertaker to come.

Unexpectedly, he's offered a new life by an obviously well-to-do American who claims to have known Elliot's long-missing father. All he has to do is rendezvous with an offshore yacht, and … well, double-unexpectedly, Elliot finds himself the victim of murderous betrayal. But he makes it to Miami, and starts working on his plan for vengeance. This requires some quick moneymaking, which (in turn) involves immersion in Floridian low-to-medium level criminal activities. Eventually, the super-twisty plot works itself to a conclusion.

Latour's depiction of post-USSR Cuba is honest, and therefore bleak. Not that he's all that easy on America: Elliot's observations of relative abundance lead him to conclude that It's All About the Benjamins here in the USA. That unsubtle conclusion is easy to live with, because Latour keeps things moving and interesting.