Havana World Series: A Novel Hardcover – Feb 7 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Cuban-born Latour's eighth book, the third novel he's written in English, pits Cuban crooks against an American crime boss in bustling, pre-Communist Havana. It's 1958, and Meyer Lansky is looking to make a killing-not just from his casino, but from all the betting on the World Series between the Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves. But mobsters Joe Bonanno and Joseph Profaci, Meyer's New York-based rivals, want a piece of the action, so they assemble a home team of criminals to rob Lansky's casino on the last night of the series. Led by Mariano "Ox" Contreras (so-called for the first thing he ever stole), they're a lively gang of smalltime swindlers, including "Wheel" Fermin, a short, balding and surprisingly prudish car thief, Arturo Heller, a smooth ex-law student, and Willy Pi, a former prostitute and cork bark collector who works at Lansky's Casino de Capri. Their heist-despite having to begin two hours ahead of schedule owing to the death of Pope Pius XII, in whose honor the casino plans to close early-goes very well. But it doesn't go perfectly, which gives the Bureau of Investigations, in the person of Col. Orlando Grava, a place to work from. Meyer Lansky, who's good friends with the struggling President Batista, can't wait to get his hands on the culprits either. But can anyone, good guy or bad, be fully trusted? Latour's occasionally stilted prose ("for of late he had become a man of archaic immorality") hardly detracts from a lively, entertaining read.
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Thrillers set in Cuba have been washing up on these shores at an ever-increasing rate (see "Cuban Noir" [BKL My 1 03]), but in terms of verisimilitude, Cuban-born Latour's work stands apart. In Outcast (1999), he put a human face on the daily deprivations of life in contemporary Cuba; this time he looks behind the neon decadence of pre-Castro, Mafia-run Havana. In a documentary-like narrative that combines the gritty fatalism of Bob Le Flambeur and the meticulous detail of Ocean's Eleven, Latour tells the story of a gang of Cuban crooks, funded by New York Mob boss Joe Bonanno, who sets out to rob Meyer Lansky's Capri casino on the last day of the 1958 World Series (when the coffers are overflowing). The portraits of Lansky, Bonnano, and the other gangsters are full-bodied, but it's the fictional blue-collar crooks, led by mastermind Ox Contreras, who give the novel its appeal and afford the best view of Cuban life. Although the documentary style occasionally seems flat, it contrasts nicely with the richness of detail and quirkiness of character. Bill Ott
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
The first part of the book details the careful set-up and execution of the robbery. Of course, a couple of things go wrong, and follow-up plans undergo a huge revision. The rest of the book describes the efforts of the local police, the mob, and the thieves to straighten out the mess and escape with some dignity intact. This is ironic, since there is not a single honest character in the entire story.
I found this book to be quite entertaining. Although the book contains some detailed baseball play-by-plays, you don't need to be a baseball fan to follow the action. The real story occurs around this event. It would have been helpful to have a "cast of characters" list in the book. Many of the men have nicknames, and it was a bit confusing to keep them straight. But the time period and setting seemed authentic, including the rumble of revolution in the background. The reader has an advantage over the characters, because we know what happened in Cuba a short time later. The author uses real mob bosses such as Joe Bonanno and Joseph Profaci, in addition to Lansky to lend authenticity to the story (which is completely fictional). As in most "caper" novels, the reader tends to root for the crooks, even knowing they are acting outside of the law. I suppose that's what makes them so much fun. This book does not disappoint, and the conclusion seems satisfying for all involved.
Latour knows the people, and the times. Dialogue and description blend seamlessly and accurately in prose that is Hemingwayesque in its leaness and precision. Historical figures, such as Lansky and Joe Bonanno, are believably lethal. Fictional characters, such as ringleader Mariano "Ox" Contreras, are just as believable (and lethal). Cuba was a tough place in 1958, where money and death could be made or found, depending on the breaks and maybe your brains. Honor, deception, sex, violence, baseball, torture, and revolution, it's all here. Good general comparisons (dialogue, description, intricate plotting) could probably be found in George Higgins' "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," or his "Outlaws." That said, "Havana World Series" nevertheless stakes out its own impressive turf in the upper reaches of crime fiction, and on its own terms. A classic.