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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

HAVANA QUEEN by James Bruno

What will happen to Cuba when the Castro brothers are gone?

Published in 2013.

James Bruno was a diplomat and a member of military intelligence. He served in Cuba during his career, a fact that makes his current offering pop with a realistic feel (and has irritated official Cuba since their official newspapers have attacked him for this book. See links in blog post here: link. )

Havana Queen features a Cuba dealing with the impending deaths of the Castro brothers. Considering that they have been the leaders of Cuba for more than half a century it would not be unreasonable to expect the transition to a post-Castro Cuba to be a rocky one.

The book works best when it features the unrest of the Cuban people due to their pent-up demands for food and even the simple the freedom to express themselves about the regime's ability to maintain the infrastructure of the country. The characters to arise from this part of the story - a young military officer, a blogger, a older war hero with new-found doubts, a loudmouthed rock star - those characters and their struggles against the regime work and are fascinating.

The Cuban regime is nervous and reacting badly, both at home and abroad. Brutal repression of protesters and a series of assassinations of spies who had been turned by the FBI (making them double agents who were feeding the Castro regime worthless or tainted information). Plus, the regime is selling information to other governments as it is pumping its own agents for anything that can distract America's focus away from Cuba while it transitions.

Che Guevara, Raul Castro and Fidel Castro

Nick Castillo is a Cuban-American FBI agent who is looking into these murders and is finding more connections to the Cuban regime than his superiors are willing to acknowledge. When he finds out that a prominent Cuban officer that he the Americans hope to turn is in danger from the Cuban government he flies to Cuba to warn him without knowledge of his superiors.

What Castillo finds is that this officer that the Americans hoped to turn was actually a plant - a fake to entice the Americans and he is captured. At this point we meet Larisa Montilla, Che Guevara's fictional half-American daughter and the heir to the Castro brothers. Montilla is unbelievably sexy and unbelievable deadly. She is the Havana Queen referred to by the title (it is actually a double entendre, there is also a former hotel that was converted into an apartment building that collapsed in the Prologue that goes by the same name. This leads to a lot of protests about how the regime is failing to provide the basics that it promised, such as housing).

Montilla takes an interest in Castillo and, for me, this is where a five star book stumbles and veers from gritty political thriller into something more indulgent and something akin to the spy parodies of the Austin Powers series. This new leader is into seriously kinky sex (Yet another supreme leader with yet another sexual fetish! This is straight of central casting for political thrillers.) and only Castillo has what she wants for reasons that were never clear to me. However, sadly for Castillo, Montilla still has him put on the firing squad.

Of course, at this point the book is just getting started...

Despite my dislike of the Montilla character, this is a solid book and is worth your time reading. On a very positive note,  this Spanish (and history) teacher is pleased to the note that the Spanish in the book is top notch (I have read too many books by world famous authors with horrid Spanish that any Spanish 1 student could have written better).

Note: I was sent a review copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: Havana Queen by James Bruno.

Reviewed on December 24, 2013.

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