The Men from Miami Published 12/05/22

My new book The Men from Miami: American Rebels on Both Sides of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution is available in the UK from 12 May 2022. This real-life Cold War thriller about the Americans who fought for Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution then switched sides to try to bring him down is available in hardback and ebook.

Back in 1957, Castro was a hero to many in the USA for taking up arms against Cuba’s dictatorial regime. Two dozen American adventurers joined his rebel band in the mountains but then he ran up the red flag and some started wondering if they’d supported the wrong side. A gang of disillusioned American volunteers changed allegiances and joined the Cuban exiles, CIA agents and soldiers of fortune who had washed up in Miami ready to fight Castro’s regime by any means necessary. These larger-than-life characters wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and went on to be implicated in President Kennedy’s assassination, a failed invasion of ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier’s Haiti and the downfall of Richard Nixon. The Cold War had arrived in Miami, and things would never be the same again.

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Recruiting British Mercenaries for Palestine, 1948

Avedis Boghos Derounian knew six words of English when he arrived in New York back in April 1921.

Yes.’ ‘No.’ ‘Hot dog.’ ‘Ice cream’.

He was a twelve-year-old Armenian from what the Ottoman Empire had called Dedeagach, an overgrown fishing village on the Thracian Sea with pretensions to being a town. By the time he made it to America the Ottomans had fallen and his old hometown been renamed Alexandroupoli in independent Greece. His parents had left the place years before, trying to stay one step ahead of Balkan Wars, Great Wars, and Turkish Genocides. They had bounced around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Derounian’s last home before the liner to America had been Sofia in Bulgaria.

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A Cuban Volunteer Fighting for Haile Selassie

Alejandro Ramón Narciso del Valle y Suero had a round face, glossy dark hair, and the self-confidence of a man who can rebel as much as he likes and still inherit millions. He came from money. His father had interests in banking and export, his mother was an heiress. Their combined bank accounts built the Palacio de Valle in the sun-soaked bay city of Cienfuegos on Cuba’s southern coast.

The Palacio was an overscaled villa tinted turquoise and ivory. Its architect had gone for a mix of Gothic and Moorish, with a drop of Empire style and a pair of sphinxes to guard the front door. Critics called it kitsch but the Del Valles didn’t care.

Estate management and a family of eight turned out to be too much for Del Valle senior. In 1919 he dropped dead. Alejandro was twelve-years-old and the eldest son. Relatives sent him north to New York State’s Poughkeepsie Military Academy where he spent his teenage years learning discipline on the parade ground. He became friends with a Mexican classmate whose father was an exiled general dreaming of coups and revenge. When the general took his son out of school and headed for the border, Del Valle joined them.

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Blog Index 3: From Crazy Joe to Communist Poland

There are well over 100 posts on this blog covering everything from Chicago gangsters to Serbian lesbian snipers, mysteriously vanished leftist terrorists, and hostage-taking Yukio Mishima enthusiasts. To save you the keyboard wear of scrolling through all of them here are a few quick links to some of the most interesting pieces.

We’re up to late 2016, where I was writing mostly about gangsters, mercenaries, and real-life crime. Find out more about the death of Crazy Joe Gallo, the early days of soldier of fortune Mike Hoare, more about French mercenary Dominique Borella, what the writer Raymond Chandler really thought of Ross Macdonald, a deep dive into foreign volunteers for the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, a pornographic Tintin cartoon caper, some notable black sheep of the British Empire, and a grim kidnapping in Communist Poland. Enjoy.

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A Norwegian Volunteer in the Spanish Civil War

On 18 July 1936 General Francisco Franco y Bahamonde and his fellow Army officers attempted to overthrow Spain’s left-wing Popular Front government. The Nationalist insurgents believed the country was speeding towards anarchy, atheism, and communism under the Popular Front’s rule. The government and its supporters saw the rising as a fascist assault on democracy.

On the side of the insurgents were conservatives, monarchists, devout Catholics, and the far-right. The Popular Front could count on liberals, communists, socialists, and anarchists. Spain became an arena for opposing political ideologies to hack and slash at each other, with the rest of the world cheering on the gladiators. Soon thousands of foreign volunteers would join the war to fight for ideals, adventure, or money.

Among them was a Norwegian called Per Imerslund.

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Blog Index 2 – From the Mau Mau to Charles de Gaulle

There are well over 100 posts on this blog covering everything from Chicago gangsters to Serbian lesbian snipers, mysteriously vanished leftist terrorists, and hostage-taking Yukio Mishima enthusiasts. To save you the keyboard wear of scrolling through all of them here are quick links to some of the most interesting pieces.

We’re looking at mid to late 2016 blog entries here, when I seemed mostly interested in France, lost causes, and half-alive books. Dive into posts about the OAS plotting to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, American students fighting  the Mau Mau in Kenya, the ghost of a Parker novel by Richard Stark, Dutch mercenaries plotting to take over Indonesia, and some Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.

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Blog Index 1 – From the Viet Cong to Brian Blessed

There are well over 100 posts on this blog covering everything from Chicago gangsters to Serbian lesbian snipers, mysteriously vanished leftist terrorists, and hostage-taking Yukio Mishima enthusiasts. To save you the keyboard wear of scrolling through all of them here are quick links to some of the most interesting pieces.

We’re starting with the early days of the blog from 2016 when I seemed to be mostly interested in war, crime, Ernest Hemingway, and the weirder shores of pop culture.  The pieces range from a few hundred words to a few thousand. Happy reading and feel free to buy one of my books – links at the end of the post. More indexes to come.

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The Gehlen Organisation in Rome, 1948

The Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum was a brick block in central Rome that turned German-speakers into priests. In the summer of 1948 the Collegium lay sleepy and deserted in the sun while its students spent their holidays at a butter-yellow villa in San Patore, thirty kilometres outside Rome. At the Collegium, a skeleton staff caught up with paperwork, shelved books, and prepared for a new intake of neophytes in the autumn.

The college librarian was a thirty-five-year-old Sudeten German called Frank Pax. He was smart and good at his job, although didn’t seem to be around much. The students liked him. Pax claimed to be a writer but no-one had ever seen anything he published. His switching of apartments every few months was tolerated as an eccentricity.

Pax lived with an unmarried Italian woman called Magda Bolsi and kept on good terms with a German ex-girlfriend who worked as translator at the Anglo-Italian Society. He had a wife called Lieselotte living in Switzerland. If the Jesuit seminary authorities knew about their librarian’s tangled love life, they forgave him. Everyone has vices.

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The Best Books on Occupied France, 1940-44

On 10 May 1940 the German army poured over the border with France and occupied the entire country within forty-six days. The French spent the next four years with their collective neck under the Nazi jackboot, fighting a daily battle against hunger and fear until they were liberated by Anglo-American forces.

The occupation left a huge scar on the country’s psyche but the outside world has rarely regarded it as more than an opportunity for turning the heroes of the French Resistance into stock figures: the small town doctor whose professional detachment turns to grim determination when the right codeword is spoken; the serious young woman in beret and ankle socks with a pistol in the pocket of her mackintosh. Those on the other side of the political aisle who collaborated with the Germans receive even less attention. A few, like the gangster Henri Lafont, have become infamous but most remain blankly anonymous traitors operating from the murkiest of motives.

The reality of collaboration was  far more complex and disturbing than the wider world ever realised. Here are five books to help you better understand Occupied France and its collaborators.

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New Book about Americans and Cuba, Coming 2022

The Covid lockdown has some advantages. Despite the masks and cruising police cars it’s given me more time to work on my next book. ‘The Men from Miami‘ is about the American misfits, gangsters, and anti-communists who fought for Fidel Castro’s rebels in Cuba … then changed their minds and tried to overthrow him when the revolution was successful.

Expect gunrunning, mysterious disappearances, Mafia plots, failed invasions, nuclear showdowns, the assassination of President Kennedy, and a little light burglary at the Watergate.

It should be out via Biteback around March 2022. If you’ve got information, photographs, or documents you think would be helpful then please get in touch via – othenc [at] gmail [dot] com. The late 50s/early ’60s was a murky time and the more light I can shed on it the better. Here’s more detail on the book:

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