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by Charles Fleming
St Martin's Minotaur, January 2004
336 pages
ISBN: 0312307489

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

AFTER HAVANA is set in the waning days of the Batista regime. The setting is strong: jazz, gambling, Mojitos, glamour, poverty, corruption, endless cups of café con leche, Mafiosi, revolutionaries in the hills, secret police-all this and George Raft too. When the novel begins, Sloan, a world-weary coronet player using a new name, has relocated to Havana with the intent of forgetting Anita, the love of his life and of staying one step ahead of the mobster he angered.

Just like the stories where someone's bought tickets to America aboard that new luxury liner, the Titanic, or decided that Pearl Harbor circa 1941 would be a dandy place to stay, Sloan is pretty much doomed to a lot of turmoil and non-stop action. Anita walks back into his life and they are briefly reunited, but of course, fate and Charles Fleming have other plans in mind for the both of them.

I will stop right here and state that I happen to believe that irony and the proverbial 'cruel twists of fate' are like vermouth in a martini: devices that should be used sparingly and with subtlety. That's not the case in AFTER HAVANA. You can't go a page without that cruel twist of fate slapping you upside the head.

One of the many cruel twists of fate keeping Sloan and Anita apart is that she's the mistress of a powerful man mixed up with revolutionaries, and then later a gangster. For some reason that still escapes me, Anita is kidnapped and ends up in the hills with Castro's forces. Then there's the complicated, inevitable denouement that I desperately tried -- and failed -- to follow.

If this sounds like a Cuban version of WINDS OF WAR, it's because it reads like one. Fleming employs a large list of characters, whose seemingly disparate agendas end up woven together for some tapestry-like, mini-series effect. There's Cardoso of the Cuban secret police, who tormented by his actions longs for redemption. Then we have Delgado, a Cuban revolutionary, attempting to rejoin Castro's forces, as well as Mo, former associate of Meyer Lansky and friend to Sloan, who has chosen this inopportune time to start up a string of casinos. And it goes on and on and on.

Fleming allows us to enjoy the perspective of most of these characters, something I ordinarily do like in a novel, but it's awkwardly done here, however, making for a disjointed, confusing, and uneven narrative.

Reviewed by Michelle L. Zafron, March 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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