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Eleven years ago, Ben Fountain won a National Book Critics Circle Award for his debut novel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” Now Fountain is back with “The Devil Makes Three” (Flatiron), a political thriller with touches of Graham Greene and John le Carré.
The story involves a loving young American in Haiti who loses his diving business after a coup. Desperate for work, he begins diving for treasure off the coast – and discovers that the Haitian military wants a cut.
Read an excerpt below.
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The day before the coup, they cleared over a thousand dollars. He had Kinston and Samuel run snorkelers out to the reefs until dusk, and there were two dive groups, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, that Matt himself had taken out to the Zombie Hole. Kinston’s son Kenal had been Matt’s crew for the dives, fourteen years old, his first time tending the boat alone. Matt wouldn’t have let him if the conditions had been less than perfect.
There had been rumours, but there were always rumours. Leaving that afternoon with his other group, Matt swung close to Kokiyaj for a look. The restaurant was full, the grounds packed with a multiracial crowd enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon on the beach. It was a reassuring sight. People wouldn’t be out if a coup was about to go down, and everyone knew that a coup didn’t make sense, not at this point. Business was good, life was good and getting better all the time, and then he woke up on Monday morning this, bristling static on the radio and firing to the south, towards Fond Boucan. The electricity and phone were out, not unusual, but soon his neighbors were walking up from the beach with rumors of a coup in Port-au-Prince. They seemed to want him to confirm one way or the other, as if a blan had access to information not available to Haitians. Some of the younger guys, the hotheads, got passionate and Matt felt their anger get to him. He had been in Tully long enough for certain grudges and resentments to accrue to him, from people who wanted employment, wanted favors, loans; who wanted to hang around the shop and be his friend, and he just didn’t have time. He breathed a little easier when Kinston and Samuel arrived, then one of the Dormond brothers jumped up to report that the headless body of the mayor of Fond Boucan had been found out on the highway. And was still there if anyone wanted to look.
“Stay,” Kinston muttered as he joined the others leaving Matt to stay. He swept the shop, then the porch and the equipment sheds, mindless work for a day when there was too much to think about. A few boats were in the canal, the brilliant turquoise of the water dulled this morning by an aerosol overlay of haze. A diving group from Port-au-Prince was booked for eleven in the morning; he knew better than to hope they showed up, but still. He supposes that’s why he kept looking up the field, as if by staring hard enough he could see them. He had been so stubborn lately, so willful, but how could it be otherwise? ScubaRave is such an absolutely outstanding place and he had made it happen with sweat, faith and his entire legacy. Tucked away among the palm trees that lined the beach was a modest assemblage of concrete sheds, a boat ramp and jetty, the stone bungalow that housed the shop and his monk-like living quarters. Half a mile of scrub lay between his place and the highway, beyond which a short run of brown foot cut abruptly into mountains, and the first ridge crested at a thousand feet. It seemed like a miracle when he opened for business and people showed up, paying customers who had seen the ads and heard by word of mouth. Haiti was becoming part of the world again and here he was on the ground floor of the impending boom, the only PADI certified operator between Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien.
“Mot!” The Smurfs came up his way, the possession of the neighborhood kids who lived in the loosely strung village along Tully Beach. “They canceled school,” announced Oxcil, a hyper little boy of eight.
“Is that true, Oxcil. I can see you are very broken up about it.” The other children laughed. “He hate school,” Guyler said. “He’s always getting into trouble.”
“Come on.” I do not believe it.
More laughs. They asked if he had heard of the coup, and if he would take the boat out today, and if he still had any cookies from the Baptist Mission. Then Eliane, Kinston’s youngest, asked if he had seen that man.
“The Man Without the Head.”
“None, darling, I didn’t.” It dawned on him that children wanted security. “It happened over in Boucan. Not Tully.”
“He was the mayor,” Kenal said.
Matt recognized this.
“He was Lavalas,” Adoline said.
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Matt said.
“Are you Lavalas?”
“I am nothing. I am one blan.”
They thought about this. Oxcil asked if they could borrow the football. Then Eliane spoke up again:
“Do you think they killed him?”
Hi m could only be Aristide, president for seven months. That children should ask such questions. Matt’s heart broke a little at this.
“I don’t know. I hope not.”
“That would be bad for your business,” Kenal said. “That’s what my father said.”
“Your father is a clever man. It would be bad for everyone’s business.”
“Do they have coups in the US?” Eliane asked now.
Matthew Amaker, a college dropout, assembled his American history as it was. “No, my dear. Well, not for a long time.”
That afternoon, the coup came to Tully Beach in the form of idiots tearing along Route Nationale 1, honking horns and spraying bursts of fun bullets into the air. After their first pass, Matt locked the gate to the property and got a machete and gaff hook from the equipment shed. The belt of forest between his place and the highway might seem to offer some protection, but nothing that really stopped them from driving down the lane and bursting through his gate—to do what? And why his place out of all the others, or did they even need a reason. Perhaps chance was part of the method, pure chance as the highest expression of a certain kind of power.
Excerpt from “Devil Makes Three”. Copyright © 2023 by Ben Fountain. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers. No part of this extract may be reproduced or reprinted without written permission from the publisher.
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- “The Devil Makes Three” by Ben Fountain (Flatiron Books), in hardcover, e-book, and audio formats