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by Roberto Arellano
Akashic Books, December 2017
224 pages
ISBN: 1617755834

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Cuban doctor Mano Rodriguez, who works in a small clinic in a Havana suburb, is the unlikeliest person to become a spy. He lives in an attic, part of what was once his family's mansion, and even the prostitutes make fun of his sad-sack appearance.

Like many in Havana in 1997, the 28-year-old matter-of-factly deals with rolling blackouts that plague the country during the regime's "Special Period," a time of little electricity and gas following the end of Soviet subsidies. The government slogan for diminishing provisions, he wryly says, could also fit his sex life. His wife has left him and his last love affair was a bust.

Cuban exiles from Miami are further trying to cripple the island government by planting bombs at hotels and restaurants filled with tourists. Mano is passing by one such hotel when a bomb goes off; despite his best efforts, a young man just a few years older than himself dies of his wounds. Mano is primed, therefore, when State Security visits, wanting to recruit him into the spy business. They want to send him to Miami to infiltrate a group of exiles who may be behind the blasts. Why Mano? His father, who Mano has never met, has ties to the group.

HAVANA LIBRE is not a thrill-a-minute thriller, yet this noir tale is definitely engaging. The story is filled with rich detail, most of it not far from the truth. There's a humanity, and a humbleness, that draws us to Mano, a loner caught up in a bigger political tug-of-wag.

HAVANA LUNAR, a previous book, was a finalist for a 2010 Edgar Award. But you needn't have read the first book to read this one, which brings a unique voice to noir fiction.

Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, January 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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