03/25/1985 at 01:00 AM EST
by William F. Buckley Jr.
Blackford Oakes, Buckley's heroic fictional CIA agent, has caught the fancy of President Kennedy. Following the Bay of Pigs, he is sent to Havana to see if there isn't some way of preventing Castro from further aligning Cuba with the Soviets. Oakes' name for the job is John Caiman; the code name is Alligator; so when Che Guevara says after their first meeting, "Hasta luego, Caiman," this book gets its cutesy title. Like other Buckley spy novels (this is No. 6), this one mixes fiction with political ideology, real historical events and notables in high places. There is a sexy translator for Oakes to have an affair with and an interesting ex-KGB sidekick. The novel is livelier than last year's The Story of Henri Tod, but Buckley still lapses into sentences not unlike those that roll so fulsomely off his tongue on TV. For instance: "They focused now on the need to snatch his own life from the rotting carcass of the political world he had inherited, and to breathe deeply the free air of the West, resisting the impulse so to involve himself in the mixed motives of mankind as to develop chronic melancholia." Translation, anyone? (Doubleday, $16.95)