by Donald E. Westlake


1977. Bored with training truckers in Alaska how to fight, Lew Brady, ex Green Beret and mercenary, accepts a job from his old buddy Frank Lanigan to steal a train full of coffee in Uganda bound for shipment to Brazil. With his girlfriend, Ellen, and an ex Ugandan Asian businessman, Lew starts putting together the operation. However, there are other forces at work: Idi Amin, the oppressive Ugandan dictator; Baron Chase, the originator of the coffee theft; as well as other people’s agendas and maybe most devastating of all, sex.

This story was conceived after Westlake heard about an actual incident where Ugandan coffee was stolen. There are shades of Westlake’s Parker stories (written as Richard Stark) in the planning parts but this book encompasses so many more characters and subplots. I was expecting more Dortmunder type antics but was disappointed by not finding them. However, the plot is enticing and with the various aspects actually became a very engrossing story.

Lewis Brady: Green Beret, former African mercenary, drives a Chevy Impala, lives in a mobile home

Ellen Gillespie: 28, works for the Alaskan pipeline, Brady’s girlfriend, tall, slender, short and dark blonde hair, pretty, father was a commercial pilot, learned to fly planes as a teenager

Baron Chase: 49, smokes cigars, Born in Canada but now a Ugandan citizen, adviser to Idi Amin as Deputy Chief of Protocol, yellow teeth, self entitled Captain, torso scarred

Mazar Balim: merchant, 53, round body, short legs, Asian but born in Uganda, large soft brown eyes, attended Eton

Frank Lanigan: 42, big man, heavy-jawed, employed by Balim as a troubleshooter, drives a Land Rover, enjoys history

Denis Lambsmith: 61, titled Sir, negotiator with the International Coffee Board, maintains a voluminous journal, white-haired, stoop shouldered, widower, has a daughter, was a spy for British intelligence during World War II in America, lives in Brazil

Idi Amin Dada: president of Uganda, black, former Uganda boxing champion, 6’4’”large man, wide mouth, heavy eyes, a score plus of children by five wives

Vivid characters. Each gets adequate time in the spotlight. Even some of the minor characters shine and are more important as the story goes along. I enjoyed how the personalities reflected inner thoughts and history and current predicaments. For many characters, at times, it seemed as if they were all in a melting pot of similar philosophies and emotions and inner battles.

Distinctive voices. Conversations range from the political to the sexual. They don’t wander but do include various topics.

Books separated in to Parts. Intricate writing. Lots of details but not too much to make it drag. There are some explicit sexual scenes and a bit of profanity. Details are enough to provide good imagery. Some humor, but the story has more serious overtones. There is an introduction in the version I read that reminds the reader the story is set in Amin’s Uganda and Amin was a cruel dictator and slaughterer of men and women. I thought the story would settle mainly on Lew and Ellen but there are sideline stories connected. Very solid and expressive writing. Lots of history to make the locations interesting. Many times the style is to have a short scene, then go back and lead up to it. Westlake is an excellent writer and Kahawa shows just how unique he can be. This is a very different story than his Parker and Dortmunder books. Similar is the complex heist, but different in all the subplots and the extended detailed setting up of the operation. I enjoy both Parker and Dortmunder stories and was intrigued by this one.

My ranking:

Red Belt



Posted on March 17, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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