Book excerpt: "Devil Makes Three" by Ben Fountain

Book excerpt: “Devil Makes Three” by Ben Fountain


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In 2009, Ben Fountain received the National Book Critics Circle Award for his first book, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” Presently, Fountain has returned with “Devil Makes Three” (Flatiron), a political suspense novel influenced by Graham Greene and John le Carré.

Unable to find employment, a friendly American man in Haiti is faced with the loss of his scuba business after a political uprising. In a desperate attempt to make money, he begins searching for treasure underwater, only to be confronted by the Haitian military who demands a portion of his findings.

“Devil Makes Three” by Ben Fountain

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The day prior to the takeover, they made more than one thousand dollars. Kinston and Samuel were responsible for taking snorkelers out to the reefs until sunset. There were two groups of divers, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, that were led by Matt himself to the Zombie Hole. Matt’s crew for the dives was Kinston’s son Kenal, who was fourteen years old and was tending the boat alone for the first time. Matt would not have allowed this if the conditions were not ideal.

There were rumors circulating, but they were nothing new. Matt went out that afternoon with his second group, and he made a detour to get a glimpse of Kokiyaj. The restaurant was busy, and there was a diverse crowd enjoying a leisurely Sunday at the beach. It was a reassuring sight, as people wouldn’t be out if there was a coup happening. Plus, it didn’t make sense for a coup to happen at this point. Business was thriving, life was good and improving all the time. However, when he woke up on Monday morning, he was greeted with static on the radio and gunshots coming from the south towards Fond Boucan. The power and phone were out, which wasn’t unusual, but then his neighbors came from the beach with rumors of a coup in Port-au-Prince. They seemed to want him to confirm the news, as if being a “blan” gave him access to information that was unavailable to Haitians. Some of the younger men became emotional, and Matt could feel their anger directed towards him. He had been in Tully long enough for certain grudges and resentments to accumulate from people who wanted a job, favors, loans, or just wanted to be his friend. He simply didn’t have the time for all of that. He felt relieved when Kinston and Samuel arrived, and then one of the Dormond brothers showed up to report that the headless body of Fond Boucan’s mayor had been found on the highway. It was still there if anyone wanted to see it.

“Please stay,” Kinston whispered as he departed with the rest of the group, so Matt decided to stay. He cleaned the shop, then the porch and the equipment sheds, doing mindless tasks on a day when there was too much on his mind. A few boats were visible in the channel, but the usually vibrant turquoise water looked dull this morning due to a layer of haze in the air. A diving group from Port-au-Prince was scheduled to arrive at eleven a.m., but he didn’t get his hopes up. Still, he kept looking up the lane, as if staring hard enough would make them appear. Lately, he had been stubborn and determined, but how could he not be? ScubaRave was an amazing place that he had created through hard work, faith, and his entire inheritance. It was nestled among the palm trees along the beach, a simple compound with concrete buildings, a boat ramp and dock, and a stone bungalow that served as the shop and his spartan living quarters. Half a mile of forest separated his place from the highway, beyond which were brown foothills that quickly turned into mountains, with the first ridge reaching a height of one thousand feet. It was almost like a miracle when people actually showed up and paid to dive with him. Haiti was slowly reconnecting with the rest of the world, and he was at the forefront of the potential economic boom as the only PADI-certified operator between Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien.

“Mott!” The smurfs were coming up his path, the posse of 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 accurate, Oxcil? It appears you are deeply upset about this.” The other children chuckled. “He despises school,” Guyler remarked. “He’s constantly getting into trouble.”

“I can’t believe it.”

They shared more humorous moments. They inquired if he was aware of the coup and if he planned on sailing today. They also asked if he still had some cookies from the Baptist mission. Eliane, the youngest member of Kinston, then asked if he had spotted a particular man.

“What man?”

“The headless man.”

“I did not, my dear,” he replied. It occurred to him that the children may need reassurance. “That incident took place in Boucan, not Tully.”

Kenal stated that he was the mayor.

Matt acknowledged this.

Adoline stated that he belonged to the Lavalas group.

Matt replied, “I am not aware of that.”

“Are you Lavalas?”

“I am not something. I am a blank.”

They considered this idea. Oxcil inquired about the possibility of borrowing the soccer ball. Then Eliane spoke up once more:

“Are you under the impression that they caused his death?”

The only person who fit the description was Aristide, who had been president for seven months. It was disheartening that young children were asking such questions. Matt’s heart was filled with sadness.

“I am unsure. I am hopeful that this is not the case.”

Kenal stated that it would negatively impact your business. He also mentioned that his father shared the same opinion.

“Your father is intelligent. It could negatively affect our business.”

Eliane inquired whether there are coups in the United States.

Matthew Amaker, a college dropout, recalled his limited knowledge of American history. “No, my dear. Not for a while.”


In the afternoon, a group of foolish individuals arrived at Tully Beach, causing chaos by driving recklessly on Route Nationale 1 and firing guns into the air. As soon as Matt saw them, he locked the gate to his property and grabbed a machete and gaff hook from the equipment shed. Despite the forest between his property and the highway, there was no real protection from these intruders who could easily break through the gate. It seemed that they had no specific purpose for targeting his property, perhaps choosing it at random as a way to display their power.

This passage is from the book “Devil Makes Three” by Ben Fountain, published in 2023 by Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers. Reproduction or reprinting of this excerpt without written permission from the publisher is prohibited.

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