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Havana [Hardcover]

Stephen Hunter
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 1 2005 Charnwood Large Print
High summer in Cuba, 1953, and Havana gleams with possibility. Flush with booming casinos, sex, and drugs, Havana is a lucrative paradise for everyone from the Mafia and United Fruit to pimps, porn-makers, and anyone looking to grab a piece of the action - including the Cuban government, which naturally honours the interests of its old ally, the United States of America. Of course, where there's paradise, trouble can't be far behind. Trouble, in this case, makes its entrance in the terrifically charismatic and silver-tongued form of a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro. The Caribbean is fast becoming a strategic Cold War hub, and Soviet intelligence has taken Castro under its wing. The CIA's response is to send the one man capable of eliminating Castro: the legendary gunfighter and ex-Marine hero Earl Swagger, who proved his lethal talent in Stephen Hunter's previous bestsellers Hot Springs and Pale Horse Coming. In Cuba, Earl finds himself up to his neck in treacherous ambiguity, where the old rules about honour and duty don't apply, and where Earl's target seems to have more guts and good luck than anyone else in Cuba.
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

The field of male fantasy fiction receives a generous literary boost with the publication of Havana, Stephen Hunter's third novel (following Hot Springs and Pale Horse Coming) to feature straight-shooting ex-Marine and Arkansas state policeman Earl Swagger.

Reluctantly leaving his wife and hero-worshipping son at home, Swagger flies off to Cuba in 1953 to act as a bodyguard for "Boss" Harry Etheridge, a rainmaking Southern congressman who proposes investigating the influence of New York gangsters on the Guantanamo Naval Base. Almost as soon as his lungs fill with the humid Caribbean air, Swagger regrets accepting this assignment. Not only must he contend with posturing, backstabbing U.S. intelligence agents, but Boss Harry proves to be both incautiously lustful (forcing Earl to rescue him from a Havana brothel confrontation) and a big target for mobsters who don't want American politicians or anyone else upsetting the profitable criminal equilibrium of Batista-era Cuba. Swagger exacerbates the risk to his longevity by agreeing to help the U.S. government assassinate Cuba's revolutionary darling of the moment, Fidel Castro--a task that will pit this Arkansas lawman against a disenchanted Russian killer who's been charged with protecting and mentoring the 26-year-old agitator.

Given Swagger's well-established weaponry skills, it's hardly surprising that Havana is peppered with tightly choreographed shootouts, both on dusty country roads and in a Zanja Street porno theater full of moaning patrons. That's the male fantasy part; this novel's literary inclination shows in its portrayal of Havana as a richly decadent city full of shiny-fendered Cadillacs, jaded whores, and casinos flushing money onto Florida-bound boats. While Ernest Hemingway and mob boss Meyer Lansky make cameo appearances here, only Castro leaves much of an impression, whether he's bumbling through an attack on a military barracks or defending himself against a father who thinks him lazy, vain, and "womanly" ("I am between opportunities, but I swear to you, I am a man of destiny"). Although Swagger's climactic gunfight tests the limits of credibility, Havana remains an unusually substantive page-turner, expertly blending hostilities with humor and heart. --J. Kingston Pierce --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The term thriller is too pallid for this powerful, satisfying novel in the 1950s-set Earl Swagger series from bestseller Hunter (Time to Hunt; Hot Springs; Pale Horse Coming). At times the book reads as if it were chiseled out of granite, with Arkansas state cop Swagger hewn from the same impenetrable material. Swagger, ex-Marine Medal of Honor winner and legendary gunfighter, is called in by the American government to serve as bodyguard to Congressman Harry Etheridge in his investigation of New York-gangster criminal activity at the American naval base in Cuba. A reluctant Swagger signs on and soon finds himself touring Havana nightspots with a congressman more interested in participating in the city's culture of vice than in rooting out gangsters. Havana in the '50s is a cauldron of competing international government and criminal agencies. The mob, led by Meyer Lansky, vies with the CIA and American business interests bent on controlling the Batista regime and keeping an inexhaustible gusher of cash flowing. Onstage steps doltish, self-centered, failed baseball star Fidel Castro, who is determined to wrest power from the corrupt government and return it to the people. Swagger is drawn into a complicated plot to kill Castro and keep the Cuban money where it belongs-in American pockets. Treachery abounds, but the rocklike Swagger thwarts backstabbing countrymen, the mob and the Russians funding Castro alike. Swagger is beyond tough: "The heavy Colt leaps against his hand, its old powder flashing brightly in the night, and Earl blows a huge 250-grainer through the Indian's chest, evacuating out ounces of lung tissue and oxygenated blood." Hunter's muscular prose is leavened with authentic detail and wit and establishes once and for all that no one working today writes a better gunfight scene.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Trying to hard June 23 2004
I've been reading Hunter for years and this is the first time I've been disappointed by one of his books. There's just to much cute about the characters and what they say and do. I especially found Short and Speshnev to be below his usual standards. As a film critic Hunter should know better then to write about "B Movie" characters. Most appalling was his portrayal of Meyer Lansky. Meyer was a gangster, not some ones
wise old granddad. (Note to SH.. Lansky would never call anyone a "schmata" a rag, he'd call him a "gonif" which is a crook.)
It was a poor end for a great series.
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After "Hot Springs" and especially after "Pale Horse Coming" I couldn't wait to get a look at the latest of the Earl Swagger novels, "Havana." Unfortunately though, Hunter just didn't deliver in this third installment. In the back of the book, Stephen Hunter acknowledges that A) he was struggling to write this next novel and B) the idea to send Earl to Havana was not his idea. Personally, I believe this shows through in places. At times it almost seemed that Earl didn't fit in with the plot, was kind of made to fit even. Yes, the gunfights and such persist. We even see Earl in the role of "sniper" (see Hunter's incredible book "Point of Impact" for a great sniper novel) but it's not enough to win over a tried and true Stephen Hunter fan. Hunter has done better. The good points though are the return of Frenchy Short, a great character from the first Earl novel, "Hot Springs." The setting for pre-Castro Cuba and the interesting historical twist of including Fidel as a key character are also well done. Unfortunately, Hunter seems to get too caught up with these other characters and misses the fact that it's our hero Earl that we've come to hear about.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Sheriff goes to Havana May 22 2004
The gist of the story is that Earl Swagger is tapped by the CIA to go to Cuba and assassinate an up and coming firebrand named Fidel Castro. We know that never happened, but Hunter weaves a skillful tale around historical fact and good speculative fiction.
Stephen Hunter does a great job of recreating Cuba before the commies took over and describes the interwoven world of secret policemen, Russian Spies, American Spies and Italian gangsters.
Earl has his struggles, but he is the moral force we came to know in HOT SPRINGS. While this book is not PALE HORSE COMING (how many books like that does a writer have inside of themselves), it is another great read from an extraordinarily gifted author.
I have no idea why anyone would give this book less than five stars. Pick it up today.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great story but Hunter needs to move on May 20 2004
I have an idea for his next novel. How about an elite German Army sniper in the closing days of the Battle for Berlin who manages to hold off half the Red Army while succeeding in helping the real Adolf Hitler escape to South America? That would be one hell of a story!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Captivating Adventure May 6 2004
By Newt Gingrich THE
Stephen Hunter has a great knack for country attitudes, good shooting, complex stories and politics.

In "Havana" Hunter captures a moment in time when Castro is just emerging (the Yankees having failed to offer him a $500 signing bonus) and Batista is back in power with the help of the American mob.

Just as in "Hot Springs" where Hunter resurrected the great pre-Las Vegas center of gambling and prostitution (matched in that era only by Youngstown), here he reminds us that Havana in the early 1950s was a city of power seekers, tourist pleasures and American and Cuban mobster domination and corruption.

He weaves together a brilliant Soviet agent, Earl Swagger (hated by the Soviet system for his individuality and protagonist of almost half Hunter's novels), the CIA, the American mob, Fidel Castro and the Cuban secret police into a wonderfully complex and constantly intriguing story.

His characterizations of a young Castro are worth the entire book: "Speshnev looked hard at him and, try as he could, only saw a familiar type, thrown up by revolutions and wars the world over. An opportunist with a lazy streak, and also a violent one... No vision beyond the self, but a willingness to use the vernacular of the struggle for his own private careerism." (p. 101)

"He does carry on don't he? He reminds me of a movie star. They get famous too young and they never recover. They always think they're important." Earl Swagger on young Fidel (p 319)

Whether for fun or learning or both, this is a worthwhile novel.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Please, let Earl rest in peace. March 16 2004
Earl Swagger is dead. His death is described in one of Hunter's earlier, and much, much better books. Please, Stephen, let the poor guy rest with dignity.
I am a big fan of Stephen Hunter's previous books. This one is definitely the worst in his impressive run, starting with "Dirty White Boys." The author really needs to find some fresh characters and stories, and not continue to rehash the same old.
The book flowed well, but the main character seemed very uncomfortable in his own skin. Definitely not the Earl Swagger of the previous books, but a twisted carricature of himself, constantly wondering what the hell he was doing in that novel. Uncharacteristically of Hunter, the supporting characters are quite weak and undeveloped. Castro himself is portrayed as a babbling megalomaniac idiot, which, whatever you may think of him, is certainly not the case.
Overall, the book was a dissapointment.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Here we go again!
This is a classic case of male fantasism at its highest. Merely a sequel to HOT SPRINGS, using some of the same characters in a more exotic locale some seven years later, but his... Read more
Published on Feb. 29 2004 by Betty Burks
1.0 out of 5 stars Havana by Stephen Hunter: Audio Book
I have been a big fan of Stephen Hunter novels for several years. Most of them I've listened to as audio books. Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2004 by Hemming Weigh
4.0 out of 5 stars My first Swagger novel; a great ride
This was my first experience with Stephen Hunter's fiction writing and with Earl Swagger, and I didn't come away disappointed. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2004 by Eugene
Listeners can almost taste and feel the hustle of 1950s Havana in these superb vocal characterizations rendered by voice actor William Dufris. Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2004 by Gail Cooke
Listeners can almost taste and feel the hustle of 1950s Havana in these superb vocal characterizations rendered by voice actor William Dufris. Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2004 by Gail Cooke
2.0 out of 5 stars Comic book sans pictures
Silly and sophomoric "guy" writing; needs to study John D. McDonald or even Donald Hamilton to see how it's supposed to be done. Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars "Everybody hated Castro, except of course the people."
Havana, 1953, all tawdry glamour and heady excitement, lures opportunists of all types with its irresistible promises of financial and political gain. Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2004 by Mary Whipple
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