MONGOOSE R.I.P. undertakes a difficult narrative stunt in its story of a CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro: It attempts to engage its readers’ interest in a situation for which the outcome is already a foregone conclusion. It is a premise which was used successfully by Frederick Forsyth in THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, which centers on a plot to kill Charles de Gaulle, but MONGOOSE R.I.P. lacks the gripping suspense which the earlier book was able to generate despite the evidence of history. Buckley’s intricate plot threads include an attempt to poison Castro using a specially treated diving suit, a Soviet defector distraught after his wife’s death at the hands of the KGB, and a nuclear missile left in place by the Soviets after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The narrative structure, however, is needlessly complicated and choppy in its presentation of the plots being hatched on both sides, and the story never achieves the momentum it needs although its climax includes the history-altering events of November 22, 1963.
The book’s chief strength is its cast of characters and the compelling human details Buckley uses to sketch in their backgrounds. Many of the individual characters are well drawn-- for example, Maria, Castro’s mistress who plans to feed him poison, or Rolando Cubela, a Cuban doctor and highly placed government official with his own motives for wishing Castro dead--but Buckley’s hero, the Ivy League super-agent Blackford Oakes (the subject of seven earlier novels), remains somehow colorless despite his ongoing relationship with the complex and interesting Sally Partridge.
Buckley mixes fact with fiction and speculation throughout the novel, thoughtfully providing a “Booknotes” section detailing which aspects of his story are drawn from actual events. John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Fidel Castro all appear as characters in the book, with Castro in particular playing a major role, and the author’s well-known political views are much in evidence. MONGOOSE R.I.P. re-creates a fascinating period in American--and Cuban--history, but in only a few brief instances does it manage to arouse more than idle speculation over how the events of its plot will be made to dovetail with the pages of history.