HAVANA: An Earl Swagger Novel
The term thriller is too pallid for this powerful, satisfying novel in the 1950s-set Earl Swagger series from bestseller Hunter (Time to Hunt; Hot Springs; Pale Horse Coming). At times the book reads as if it were chiseled out of granite, with Arkansas state cop Swagger hewn from the same impenetrable material. Swagger, ex-Marine Medal of Honor winner and legendary gunfighter, is called in by the American government to serve as bodyguard to Congressman Harry Etheridge in his investigation of New York–gangster criminal activity at the American naval base in Cuba. A reluctant Swagger signs on and soon finds himself touring Havana nightspots with a congressman more interested in participating in the city's culture of vice than in rooting out gangsters. Havana in the '50s is a cauldron of competing international government and criminal agencies. The mob, led by Meyer Lansky, vies with the CIA and American business interests bent on controlling the Batista regime and keeping an inexhaustible gusher of cash flowing. Onstage steps doltish, self-centered, failed baseball star Fidel Castro, who is determined to wrest power from the corrupt government and return it to the people. Swagger is drawn into a complicated plot to kill Castro and keep the Cuban money where it belongs—in American pockets. Treachery abounds, but the rocklike Swagger thwarts backstabbing countrymen, the mob and the Russians funding Castro alike. Swagger is beyond tough: "The heavy Colt leaps against his hand, its old powder flashing brightly in the night, and Earl blows a huge 250-grainer through the Indian's chest, evacuating out ounces of lung tissue and oxygenated blood." Hunter's muscular prose is leavened with authentic detail and wit and establishes once and for all that no one working today writes a better gunfight scene. Agent, Esther Newberg. (Oct.)
Forecast:A number of notable thrillers have recently been set in Havana, including Les Standiford's Havana Run (2003), Thomas Sanchez's King Bongo (2003) and Martin Cruz Smith's Havana Bay (1999). Havana dukes it out with the best of them, and Hunter can expect another richly deserved bestseller.