Author: Libby Fischer Hellmann
Publisher: The Red Herring's Press
ISBN: 978-1938733383

Romantic suspense is a literary genre that is hard to sustain; getting the balance right between the love interest, usually a gorgeous guy and gal for whom the path of truth love is rockier than the Grand Canyon, while the plot moves forward at a pace that has the reader page turning at a rate of knots is something that can only be achieved by a talented experienced writer.

Writer, Libby Fischer Hellmann is both talented and experienced, and her novel, Havana Lost, which begins in pre-revolutionary Cuba and moves forward in time to modern day America and Cuba, reflects her skill as an exciting story teller.

The plot spans three generations of the Pacelli family. Joe Pacelli, Mafia boss, runs the La Perla Casino in downtown pre-Castro Havana. Fidel and his rebels not too many heartbeats away from ousting Batista’s corrupt regime, Joe figures after the takeover happens it will be business as usual; the only thing that will change is who gets the bribes.

Joe is though worried about his eighteen-year-old daughter, Francesca. Beautiful and willful, Francesca has developed a social conscience, she would like to help Havana’s poor, more so since meeting Luis, a Cuban student activist who leads an anti-government group in Havana.

Joe finds out about the affair and decides to ship Francesca back to the US before it goes any further. Francesca has other plans; she escapes the family home with Luis and they assume new identities in a town far from Cuba’s capital. Luis joins Fidel’s rebel army and Francesca finds a job as an English teacher. Happy and fulfilled it’s not long before she becomes pregnant, both Francesca and Luis delighted by the news.

The characters, Francisca and Luis, are interwoven with exciting well written snapshots of life for ordinary Cubans caught up in the revolutionary fervor that lead to the downfall of the Batista government.

Unfortunately, happiness, like everything else, doesn’t last forever and Francesca is kidnapped by a group sent by her father to return her, not just to him, but to the U.S.  Joe, unsure of Castro’s intentions, moves his operations back to America and Francesca, now heavily pregnant, for the sake of convention is forced into marriage with a man she does not love or even like.

All contact with Luis lost, Francesca has a son, Michael.  The story segues forward to the events that surround an adult Michael returning to Cuba in search of a map that documents the location of a mine – a mine that could make the developer fabulously wealthy. Michael, unaware that the man he has called father is not his biological parent, attempts to follow the trail that will lead to the mysterious map.

He meets a spunky Cuban doctor, Carla and as with his mother’s affair with Luis is immediately attracted to her passionate idealistic nature. He makes contact with Luis and the suspense ramps up to 10 on the Richter scale – there is a really bad guy who is also after the map and Michael’s plan to take both Carla and Luis back to the U.S. puts them all in serious danger. Don’t want to reveal Libby Hellmann’s unexpectedly thrilling plot points so will only write that the outcomes are often surprising.

There is some interesting well researched information interleaved in the plot on the material to be found in the searched for mine which had me doing a google search and yup, Ms. Hellmann got it right – like an author who can seamlessly weave factual data into fiction.

I have visited Cuba and found the atmosphere of distrust and despair amongst Cubans who are just barely surviving a system of government which can’t provide for its citizen’s needs realistically depicted in Havana Lost. 

The story moves on to the next generation, all the characters evolving, particularly Francesca, whose youthful conscience driven naivety has taken a disturbing turn.

The conclusion to Havana Lost refreshingly, doesn’t provide happy endings for all its characters but it does provide a rattling good read – liked the writing and the story.   

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