Reviewer Janet Walker: Janet is the author of Colour To Die For, first of the Fee Weston Mystery Series. Janet lives in Australia and when she is not writing about P.I. Fee Weston's fight for truth, justice and a livable cash flow, she writes articles for magazines and fund raises for Australia's wildlife carers - heroes of the bush. For more about Janet and Fee visit Janet's WEBSITE
Author: James Bruno
Publisher: Bittersweet House Press
Around four years ago, after holidaying in Mexico I caught a flight to Havana, Cuba. Mistaken for a North American, (I’m Australian) a week in Havana was way too long for me. My hotel room, windowless and expensive, the staff were surly; they didn’t like North Americans but really liked North American money. I felt like a cash cow; it seemed like every Cuban I met or passed in the street expected a handout. Deciding to make the best of it, I tripped around and did meet some nice people, heard some great music and realized that Cubans were doing it tough. After the breakup of the Soviet Union the funding that allowed the Castro government to keep the revolution on track stopped. As a result, the government’s charter to supply basic necessities to its citizens: food, shelter and health/education services began to falter quite badly. The future for Cuba’s socialist revolution didn’t and doesn’t look good.
It was with great interest I picked up James Bruno’s latest thriller, Havana Queen, for an update on how Cubans are faring. Unfortunately, not too well. Author, James Bruno is a guy who would know, as he was employed by the US State Department for twenty-three years, with some service in Cuba, and is a former diplomat and military intelligence analyst. His writing has the ring of verisimilitude about it; there were times when I was reading a chapter about events in Havana that I thought, ‘Hey, how come I didn’t know this had happened?’ The answer: James Bruno is a good writer and these events were just part of the story; seemed real to me, though.
You get a lot for your money with Havana Queen – inside info on the workings of the FBI and CIA, spies and their modus operandi, past history of the Cuban revolution, current Cuban politics and street life, insight into US Cuban born dissident organizations, all wrapped up in a rattling good yarn which stars FBI agent, Nick Castillo and his nemesis/hot chick, soon-to-be-head-honcho-of-Cuba, Larisa Montilla.
Spies on both sides, Cuba and the US are winding up dead and nobody knows why. The FBI and CIA, taken by surprise (you get the feeling that both these agencies spend a lot of time being surprised) decide to work together to uncover the whys and wherefores of the murders. Nick is teamed with CIA agent, Kate. Nick’s sure he’s not getting the whole story from ice maiden Kate in regard to the CIA’s interest and action plan to solve who is behind the assassination of Cuban agents in the US.
Nick and Kate don’t get on and he starts to paddle his own canoe. A canoe that finds Nick beached in a Cuban jail; his jailor, the disturbingly beautiful but more than likely evil, Larisa Montilla, President-elect of Cuba as soon as octogenarians Fidel and Raul quit the earthly revolution for the commune in the sky.
Luckily for Nick, Larisa fancies him big time and he is removed from prison to join her in her mansion. Nick is attracted to Larisa but is alarmed by her kinky sexual practices. Agreeing to her demands though, is better than being water boarded and reluctantly he joins in, surprised and guilty to find that it’s pleasurable. This on-again-off-again relationship continues throughout the story; Larisa and Nick’s attraction becoming a powerful force which neither is able to explain or tame.
The story picks up pace when Nick makes contact with a Cuban rebel force. Escaping Larisa’s clutches he joins the rebel band, becoming part of the guerrilla force dedicated to ousting the Castro regime. Washington wants him back; there are spies deep within US Government agencies and the combined forces of the FBI and CIA are stymied, Nick is needed.
One thought that will stay with me after reading Havana Queen is the lack of success or less charitably, stuff-ups that both the FBI and CIA have in identifying and bringing to justice any of the bad guys and gals. Might be time the American people took a look at their collective track record.
The plot zips along, Nick zigging and zagging with consummate skill, does what good guys always do, saves the Pres from trouble deep and lives to fight another day.
Havana Queen is a likeable, rip-roaring thriller written by an author, James Bruno, who knows how to merge a realistic absorbing account of life in Cuba with fast paced action into an exciting fun read.