Devil Makes Three: Book summary and reviews of Devil Makes Three by Ben Fountain

Devil Makes Three

A Novel

by Ben Fountain

Devil Makes Three by Ben Fountain X
Devil Makes Three by Ben Fountain
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Book Summary

From the award-winning, bestselling author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk comes a brilliant and propulsive new novel about greed, power, and American complicity set in Haiti.

Haiti, 1991. When a violent coup d'état leads to the fall of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, American expat Matt Amaker is forced to abandon his idyllic, beachfront scuba business. With the rise of a brutal military dictatorship and an international embargo threatening to destroy even the country's most powerful players, some are looking to gain an advantage in the chaos–and others are just looking to make it through another day.

Desperate for money―and survival―Matt teams up with his best friend and business partner Alix Variel, the adventurous only son of a socially prominent Haitian family. They set their sights on legendary shipwrecks that have been rumored to contain priceless treasures off a remote section of Haiti's southern coast. Their ambition and exploration of these disastrous wrecks come with a cascade of ill-fated incidents―one that involves Misha, Alix's erudite sister, who stumbles onto an arms-trafficking ring masquerading as a U.S. government humanitarian aid office, and rookie CIA case officer Audrey O'Donnell, who finds herself doing clandestine work on an assignment that proves to be more difficult and dubious than she could have possibly imagined.

Devil Makes Three's depiction of blood politics, the machinations of power, and a country in the midst of upheaval is urgently and insistently resonant. This new novel is sure to cement Ben Fountain's reputation as one of the twenty-first century's boldest and most perceptive writers.

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Media Reviews

"[A] bold tale... Fountain brings a Graham Greene-like approach to Haiti's vagaries and wonders. This sweeping, bracing, and sobering exploration of the troubled island nation's perennial, heartbreaking turmoil and geopolitical complications is topical yet timeless, elaborate and nuanced, laden with political intrigue and immersed in cultural rituals." —Booklist (starred review)

"Fountain dramatically captures the ever-shifting nature of Haitian politics. The result reads like an update of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, with some of the moral heft of Robert Stone's A Flag for Sunrise. Readers of international thrillers should pounce." —Publishers Weekly

"A fine-grained, if at times overly upholstered tale of humanitarian and political tragedy." —Kirkus Reviews

"Ben Fountain's powerfully written novel is many things at once―a spy thriller, a family saga, a love story, a treasure hunt, and a tale of brutal political repression, all set in the charged atmosphere of early 1990s Haiti. By succeeding at all of these, Devil Makes Three reminds us not only of the ways an ambitious, fully engaged novel can further our understanding of the world, but also of how pleasurable and satisfying reading such a novel can be." ―Imbolo Mbue, New York Times bestselling author of Behold the Dreamers and How Beautiful We Were

"Ben Fountain portrays with precision the native and foreign devils of Haiti in this extremely well-constructed novel. All must endure the intractability of this complex country, an intractability…that sometimes yields in proportion to one's willingness to risk everything." ―Yanick Lahens, author of Moonbath, winner of the Prix Femina

"Woven artfully into the fabric of Ben Fountain's literary thriller Devil Makes Three is a scathing indictment…Reflective and prescient, stunning in its narrative complexity and nuanced characterization, the novel is at once timely and timeless, working double duty as a reminder of the sins of America's past and a warning of those to come." ―John Vercher, author of Three-Fifths and After the Lights Go Out

"Devil Makes Three is the sort of expansive, heartbreaking, thrilling novel I didn't realize I was missing until it grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go. Writing at the peak of his considerable powers, Ben Fountain makes a harrowing period in Haiti's recent history come wonderfully and tragically alive. This morally complex novel is why we read fiction." ―Jess Walter, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Cold Millions and Beautiful Ruins

"Devil Makes Three brings the relentless intimacy of great literature to the quest to understand Haiti. In this sense, the novel is both an act of wild faith and an act of mad love and, finally, a triumph." ―Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul and The Immaculate Invasion

"Devil Makes Three is a fast and riveting read, a gripping thriller braided with a couple of credible love stories. This novel will pin your ears back with some of its hard-won truths." ―Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls' Rising

This information about Devil Makes Three was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Karen G. (Norfolk, MA)

I learned a lot
This book is long but well worth it. I feel I learned something on almost every page. When names or events were mentioned I often looked them up. All were accurate and factual. The characters were very well developed and stayed true to their given characters. There was so much detail and so much to think about. I did not realize how little I knew about Haiti but felt better that the historical and political events were familiar. Devil Makes Three is definitely worth the investment of your time.

M K. (Minneapolis, MN)

Devil Makes Three
Devil Makes Three is a riveting detective novel, a thriller with political intrigue, many interwoven love stories and rise and collapse of Haiti after the coup replacing Aristide, the first democratically leader of their country. It's a long involved saga with many layers of chaos, deception, and truth. The novel is a roller coaster ride worth holding on tight. I enjoyed this gorgeous novel about what happens when a democratic country falls apart.

Lynne Z. (San Francisco, CA)

Nothing Has Changed After 32 Years
"U.S. Embassy Urges All Americans to leave Haiti" - September 2023
Ben Fountain writes a compelling and comprehensive history of Haiti, that begins in September 1991 with a violent coup - a broken country filled with political instability, mismanagement, substandard infrastructure, corruption and violence. The novel feels like it's set in 2023.

Fountain develops a host of intriguing characters, but the main protagonist is definitely Haiti. This is such a book of place. The author's knowledge of the country is remarkable. He is able to describe everything in infinite and exquisite detail - geography, political machinery and foreign intervention, scuba diving, colonialism and racial issues, illegal arms, vodou, Kreyol and much more. Early in the novel, he writes "From the mountains came the sound of Vodou arms, faint tremolos and mutterings of the drummers." Comparing the experience to the call to prayer in Turkey, he continues, "Here the drums affected him much the same way, as a framing device that served to take you out of yourself – to lift the spirit ... while strangely, paradoxically, concentrating one's sense of self." I began copying other memorable passages, but they came with practically every page, so I had to stop. Devil Makes Three is dense with description.

The title was perfect. It seemed like all the characters were "dealing with the devil" at some point in the story. I liked that the main characters were complex, often contradictory and involved in difficult relationships and situations. Throughout the book I felt the constant tension of being in Haiti and was always anticipating that violence was near.

I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this one. I found some of the political content confusing, especially Audrey's involvement as a CIA agent, but the book held my interest on many levels. There was a lot packed into 531 pages. While reading, I was transported to Haiti. I must admit, I am glad to be back home.

Linda O. (Jacksonville, NC)

The Devil in Haitian Life
If the devastation caused by hurricanes and earthquakes or the political upheavals that have resulted in so much poverty and violence have stirred any empathy for the Haitian people, Devil Makes Three might be the book for you. The story begins as the 1991 coup to overthrow Aristide takes place. Almost overnight the country changes; massacres, bodies in the streets, a mayor killed and beheaded, and the beginning of major drug and arms trafficking. Some of Ben Fountain's characters you like, some you don't, and some you don't trust, but all are memorable.

American Matt Amaker and Haitian-Canadian Alix Variel are excited that their ScubaRave business is taking off, but coup leaders need their sturdy jetty for trafficking. The guys begin treasure hunting as a means to make money, but when word gets out that they might have found gold, they are arrested and jailed by Anti-gang leaders. They are moved to the Casernes jail near the palace. Eventually Alix's release is negotiated by the Canadian government, but Matt gets nothing from the American embassy and is forced to work for Colonel Concers, one of the coup leaders.

Shelly Graver, aka Audrey O'Donnell, aka a clandestine CIA agent, arrives at USAID and soon begins recruiting assets. One of those assets is the doctor of the local hospital. Misha Variel, Alix's sister, goes to work at Hospital Georges Laroque where her primary job is to gather patient records. Soon she suspects that Doctor Laroque is turning those records over to Shelly Graver. When she confronts him, he says that money from USAID is the only way the hospital stays open. She realizes USAID is about more than humanitarian aid and suspects that the records are going to be used as a hit list, especially as they include the political leanings of the patients.

The role Vodou plays in the story presents a very different picture than the one shown by American media. Here it is depicted as a vibrant part of the Haitian people's lives in a very believable way.

The degree of corruption the book reveals about American government officials, American politicians, and American businessmen is staggering. They are as much the villains in Devil Makes Three as the coup leaders. This is not a book for the fainthearted, but I found the character of the Haitian people compelling and the revelation of American involvement enlightening.

Cathy Thibeault

Haiti in turmoil
I have known Haiti to be a poor country, but it was always an abstract knowledge. Ben Fountain brought the plight of Haiti to the forefront. His description of the ordinary life of ordinary people living in Haiti was heartbreaking. His descriptive writing and vast knowledge of their history, poverty, and fear were intense. The problems they faced while just trying to survive made me cringe.

Mr. Fountain presented their fear as a palpable, living thing. I was blown away by his prose and presentation. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone interested in history in the making as we follow the lives of the Haitian people and their leaders. An intense read.

Judith G. (Greenbrae, CA)

Ben Fountain's Devil Makes Three is a large book in every sense: large-hearted, large in sweep, large in memorable characters and stories, large in meaning (and physically large at 531 pp.). It's the story of an American and his Haitian partner whose diving business is appropriated by the state, and who turn to diving for buried treasure ships with horrifying results. It's the story of the Haitian's sister, a Ph.D. Philosophy candidate at Brown who instead winds up working in a desperately underfunded Haitian hospital. It's the story of an U.S. aid worker whose actual work in no way resembles her title. It's the story of voodoo. It's the story of a U.S. sponsored coup in the 90's, which removed Aristide, the democratically-elected president.

It's about the poverty in Haiti, the chaos, the drug-running, the corruption, the beauty, the resilience of its people. In truth, the main character is Haiti itself, and Ben Fountain embraces all of it—takes the reader right into its heart, lets us feel its pulse. There is so much going on here, the scope is so wide that although every part of it is compelling, it sometimes becomes too much of a good thing and makes the going difficult. But overall, Devil Makes Three is a beautifully written, unique and powerful novel that changed how I look at Haiti, at history, and at my government.

...19 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Ben Fountain Author Biography

Photo: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0

Ben Fountain was born in Chapel Hill and grew up in the tobacco country of eastern North Carolina. A former practicing attorney, he is the author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, and the novel Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award and a finalist for the National Book Award. Billy Lynn was adapted into a feature film directed by three-time Oscar winner Ang Lee, and his work has been translated into over twenty languages. His series of essays published in The Guardian on the 2016 U.S. presidential election was subsequently nominated by the editors of The Guardian for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

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