Published in the Sunday Portsmouth Herald (NH) on February 10, 2013
Carlos Gutierrez, a civil servant under the Castro Cuban government, lives by his principles as the Minister of Health. He rose through the ranks, takes pride in introducing new procedures and programs to better serve Cubans and sees live through a prism of doing good. This prism, however, begins to refract a disturbing picture. One that Carlos in good conscience cannot ignore. And having a conscience is what makes Carlos a different kind of Cuban government official. His conscience leads him to make life decisions that may affect his career, his marriage and his life.
In Fidel’s Last Days, Roland Merullo, a Massachusetts author who has penned several best-sellers, takes us deep into the heart of corruption and intrigue at the highest levels of Cuban government. Although a work of fiction, it is not hard to imagine that a plot to kill Castro might be brewing amongst disparate parties. And because Cuba is mysterious to most of us, despite Fidel Castro being a well-known figure, the inside look that Merullo affords us feels very real.
Lovely Cuban, Carolina Perez, is hired into the plot to assassinate Castro through a secret American group called Orchid. She has 10 years of CIA experience, as well as eight years with Orchid. She is a skilled operative, paid handsomely for taking on missions around the world and has developed a remove that allows her not to question anything. After each job she returns to her secluded Atlanta condominium, blends back into the world and awaits her next assignment. This is a woman with no regrets and no friends. She is also the niece of Roberto Anzar, a powerful, influential member of Castro’s inner circle. What game are these two playing? Who is really deceiving whom?
Carlos and Carolina move inextricably towards the goal of assassinating Castro, on separate paths of increasing danger. Neither knows who to trust and neither knows about the other until the very end. As with so many stories of intrigue at the highest level, no one character knows everything, even when they think they do. Falsehoods, botched plans, narrow escapes, tension and carefully constructed dialogue pepper the chapters, as we, the reader, become enmeshed in the plot. Will this influential, scattered band of intellectuals succeed?
Castro is portrayed as a wily leader, still at the top of his game, his brother Raul by his side. As Doctor to the Commandante, Carlos has unprecedented access. But will his nervousness give him away.
“Carlos did not sleep but lay twisting in the too-large bed, tormented by the enormity of what he was about to do. Every second, the deed seemed to grow more real, its edges sharp, its center a dark purple-black, a monster gnawing at his soul.”
Castro is known for being able of sense deception and having a nose for a lack of complete allegiance. Carlos’s principles have led him into a dangerous game.
“Fidel Castro was a man of moods, a sinking soul wrapped in a paranois and the past. Carolos had been Fidel’s personal physician for six years, and in that time he had seen the Great Leader fidget and complain like a young child over the smallest discomfort, and sit stoically and endure his skin being sewn up without anesthesia. The man had not a milliliter of patience, but he had a massive pride, and sometimes the pride was enough to keep him still.”
Fidel’s Last Days is a classic spy thriller. The last quarter of the book brings the threads together at an exciting pace. As the pace quickens, alternating chapters between Carlos and Carolina bring them closer to the abyss. On their shoulders rides the future of Cuba.
The last chapter is one of the most brilliant wrap ups I have ever read. I read it a few times to make sure I understood it all. By the time I reached that chapter, I was practically pacing as I read. No ending giveaways though, you must read for yourself.
Often it is men who enjoy spy or political thrillers, such as those written by Robert Ludlum, Lee Child, Jack Higgins or Vince Flynn but given the strength of the female protagonist, Carolina Perez, I would recommend this for all readers. There is much to learn about Cuba’s history as well.
Roland Merullo has written the best-selling memoir, In Revere in Those Days, the dark, sociological tale, Talk Funny Girl, and Breakfast with Buddha and the recently released Lunch with Buddha. Merullo is a hard-working author with over ten titles to his name form fiction to memoir and non-fiction. I invite you to delve into the shelves and experience his different styles.
Review by Sherry Evans, Portsmouth Public Library. 2/4/13/sme