The Havana Room Hardcover – Jan 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Harrison's status as the noir poet of New York crime fiction (Afterburn; Manhattan Nocturne) will surely be enhanced by his latest thriller-featuring, among other pleasures, the graphic description of several new and unusual ways to die. What goes on in the by-invitation-only Havana Room of a midtown steakhouse is certainly bizarre-but no odder than what happens in a Long Island potato field when a Chilean wine maker decides to expand his empire. Caught in the middle are two most unlikely heroes: Bill Wyeth, a real estate lawyer whose career and marriage are destroyed by a terrible accident involving a child, and Jay Rainey, a hulking, strangely sympathetic con artist. Linking these two is a touching and complicated woman, Allison Sparks, who manages the steakhouse but longs for more. "She seemed full of humor and fury and sexual need. She arranged people, fixed problems, came to decisions." Although Wyeth and Rainey drive the action, it's Sparks who sets the moral tone of the book. Meanwhile, the lush, alluring steakhouse and its public and private pleasures are the perfect metaphor for a postapocalyptic New York. "It did not matter if you polluted your lungs or liver or gut with the good stuff being served, because a man or a woman's life was itself just a short meal at the table, so to speak, and one had an obligation to live well and live now, to dine heartily by the logic of the flesh." Despite occasional digressions into arcane real estate law and Chinese cuisine, Harrison's storytelling hums and his prose shimmers all the way through this fascinating adventure.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Harrison's latest intelligent thriller does not offer quite as compelling a plot as his last one, the acclaimed Afterburn (1999); however, his businessman-turned-desperado characters are never less than riveting, bringing us an up-to-date bulletin straight from the heart of a battered New York City. Corporate lawyer Bill Wyeth is jettisoned from his pampered upper-middle-class lifestyle by a tragic accident. Arriving home unexpectedly, he gives his son's sleepy guest a glass of milk inadvertently laced with peanut sauce. The boy, severely allergic, goes into shock and dies. The boy's wealthy, grieving father engineers Bill's destruction, and he loses his job, home, and family. Desperate for some kind of structure, Bill becomes a regular at a long-established steakhouse, entering the orbit of beautiful and austere restaurant manager Allison Sparks. She gives him entree to the Havana Room, the scene of backroom deals and strange goings-on, and introduces him to Jay Rainey, a hugely charismatic and secretive businessman who draws Bill into a dangerous venture. Suddenly, both men are being stalked by hip-hop-loving thugs and a cultured but equally ruthless entrepreneur. The complex plot, however, merely seems like the framework for Harrison's ultra-modern morality tale about the costs of self-preservation and the deep pressures of being human. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
When he has reached the bottom, he wanders into a steak restaurant that seems to be an island of sanity in a world that has turned on him. He develops a crush on the woman who runs the restaurant, Allison Sparks. There is a mysterious room which is invitation-only that fascinates him but to which he cannot gain access. Then one night he is asked by Allison to help her boyfriend, Jay Rainey, close a real estate deal. He does, reluctantly, and as a result, (1) finds himself doing things that, while not clearly criminal, could be and (2) starts being threatened by a series of thugs for reasons he cannot understand. All of this leads him to uncover Jay Rainey's secrets as a way of saving himself.
The obvious influence on this book is the Great Gatsby. Rainey shares a first name (Jay) with Gatsby, an obsession with trying to reclaim the past, and a possibly criminal background. Indeed, Wyeth comes on a list of activities made by Rainey of what to do each day that is almost identical to a list made by Gatsby, although for different purposes. Of course, nothing is what it seems a first or even second glance.Read more ›
The most important lesson that one can learn about life is that every act carries its own potential for disaster, and that while there are ways to cut the odds, the house holds all the cards. This is a lesson that Bill Wyeth learns, at the cost of dear coin, in THE HAVANA ROOM.
Wyeth is a fabulously successful real estate attorney, still on the ascending arc of a brilliant career, when he commits an act of simple, almost offhand, courtesy that results in personal disaster. Within weeks he has lost his job, his family and his respect, while each day tolls his ever-deeper descent into his personal maelstrom.
The unplanned randomness of his life finds him entering a Manhattan steak house --- we never really learn its name --- where he finds himself slowly drawn into the web of Allison Sparks, the restaurant's attractive, enigmatic manager, and the Havana Room, a separate room in the restaurant where entrance is on an invitation-only basis and where what goes on is a closely held secret.Read more ›
Bill Wyeth, a high powered real estate lawyer is upwardly mobile. He's already successful while still in his thirties, married, and the father of a son. While his wife wants more their New York apartment is upscale; their friends are important.
Then, he experiences every man's worst fear - he loses all by mere happenstance. It's a dreadful accident when he finds a drink for one of the young boys at his son's sleepover. Unbeknownst to Bill a mere drop of a substance to which the boy is allergic is in that glass. A severe reaction ensues, and the boy dies.
From the top of the heap he sinks to the bottom of the barrel. His wife takes their son and moves to another city. Set adrift in a world he does not know Bill takes to hanging out in a restaurant, a Manhattan steakhouse managed by the very attractive Alison Sparks.
Almost as intriguing as Alison is the restaurant's private bar called the Havana Room. Rumor has it that the goings on in that space are high stakes and dangerous.
Wanting to prove himself to Alison he agrees to a favor - he agrees to represent an unsavory character who needs to quickly close a real estate deal. Big mistake. Bill soon fears for his own life as he learns of murder and kidnaping.
Colin Harrison paints a frightening picture of the New York we'd rather not visit, and Henry Leyva describes it exceedingly well.
- Gail Cooke
Most recent customer reviews
tell you what, you are simply not on the level of how to appreaciate a good novel by a far too good writer. Read morePublished on July 16 2004 by justareader
Great writer, I was intrigued from page 1. Lots of twists and turns. Complex plot, check it out.Published on July 13 2004
The Havana Room by Colin Harrison is a good example of what might be called Fiction Noir. The main character is one Bill Wyeth, formerly a big shot lawyer who has just everything... Read morePublished on July 13 2004 by Charles J. Rector
I'd give this book no stars if I could. I liked nothing about it -- all of the characters are unpleasant and poorly drawn. Read morePublished on April 26 2004
Is there a better novelist crafting well-written, utterly engaging stories about Manhattan than Colin Harrison? I doubt it. Read morePublished on April 19 2004
This book was easy to read. I read it in two days. But, I was not happy with the storyline. It was not believable. Too many things happened that would not happen in real life. Read morePublished on April 13 2004
For the first third of this book I thought I had found one of those magical times when I read slowly to savor the writing and the mood. Read morePublished on April 9 2004 by cosmo
when I picked up this book and read the first few chapters I was enchanted, the 1st few pages were so well written, they were almost perfection. Read morePublished on April 1 2004
This book, advertised as "noir" mystery/thriller has a shallow and highly improbable as well as very convoluted plot. Read morePublished on March 19 2004 by Perlroth,