I am simply unsure how I feel about this book. I have problems with
it, yet I read it in its entirety. When I really hate a book, I
can't finish it. With Charles Fleming's AFTER HAVANA, I still
wanted to know what happened to the various characters, even if
none of them was particularly sympathetic. How did he do
One difficulty with this second book is that much seems to rely on
the first one, which I have not read. That's always a concern with
series books, but the lead character, now known as Sloan, refers
constantly to events that brought him to Cuba, yet I often felt
like I didn't have all the information.
Another complication for me was the nature of coincidence in the
story; there are five or six key players in this book, along with
about a dozen other secondary players, and their worlds constantly
intersect and connect. I didn't find it all that believable. Yet I
got the sense that in this time and place (Havana in the late
1950s), there really weren't too many people around and so it was
inevitable that they would often meet in the same establishments,
particularly casinos and clubs.
But there's also the revolutionary and security man (the
above-the-level-of-police enforcers for the fading Batista regime),
the other revolutionaries, and brief appearances by Fidel Castro.
There were reminders of the times that didn't quite work; side
comments on songs by the Everly Brothers or a remark that Castro
was a ball player once scouted by the Washington Senators. Writing
fiction in history is always difficult because you have to make it
feel and seem right; the reminders were obviously there for that
reason, but they were unnecessary.
Despite these problems, I still recommend reading AFTER HAVANA.
Charles Fleming is writing about a time and place that is alien to
most of us; learning about the corruption, the power plays between
the gangsters and the police, the revolutionaries, and everyday
people was worthwhile. There were some gruesome parts that I had to
skip, including those involving police torture. Though Fleming
doesn't write this gratuitously, I nevertheless have difficulties
reading such scenes. I did find some lines that made me
uncomfortable and seemed close to nonsensical: "Like a lot of
actors, Raft had a large head and a big, expressive face." Actors
have big heads? Huh? There were other generalizations that I
couldn't understand, but these are all minor flaws.
Unfortunately I just didn't connect that strongly with Sloan;
Anita, the woman he loves; Cardoso, the interesting police officer;
or Delgado, the revolutionary. They're mostly well-drawn, however,
and you may find their story works for you better than it did for
Reviewed by Andi Shechter (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 20, 2011