Billed as a master of "Cuban noir," Jose Latour presents a dark novel of gambling, the American mob, and violence in Havana in 1958, during the presidency of Fulgencio Batista, a friend of mob boss Meyer Lansky. Lansky is deeply involved with the Casino at the Capri Hotel, having made deals with many of the employees, inspectors, and supervisors. Now, during the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves, he also expects to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars in bets on the games. A motley group of locals, working for Elias Naguib, a businessman with ties to New York mob boss Joe Bonanno, has been planning a "fool-proof" robbery of Lansky's take, but ironically, the death of Pope Pius XII and the early closing of the casinos "out of respect" on the last night of the World Series changes the timing of the heist, and a bloody mess results.
Tawdry Havana with all its neon tackiness and grubby glamour comes alive here. Corrupt politicians, paid-off police, and mobsters control businesses ranging from prostitution and abortion to the international sugar, jewelry, gaming, and spare auto parts industries. Massive collusion leaves the average citizen powerless to control his own destiny, as Latour recreates the atmosphere which propels Fidel Castro to power a few months after the novel concludes. By alternating Lansky's activities with the play-by-play of each of the six World Series games, the author creates a sense of credibility and realism, and as the bodies pile up, the internecine rivalry among New York mob families adds external complications to the complex internal struggles for influence in Havana.
Latour is an extremely precise, controlled writer who has plotted his novel to the last microdetail, leaving no loose ends, and the novel moves along smartly, despite its complexity. Developing drama and suspense through his careful selection of details and his ability to create a milieu by amassing specifics and piling them upon each other, he allows himself no forays into romantic description or heart-tugging literary pictures. What you "see" here of Havana appears to be presented with almost journalistic impartiality. Complex and exciting in its plotting and fully detailed in its depiction of 1958 Havana, this is a fine novel, bold and masculine in its presentation and full of the violence and uncertainty which presaged Castro's arrival into Havana. Mary Whipple