AFTER HAVANA

Charles Fleming, Author . St. Martin's Minotaur $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-30748-6

Set in Cuba during the final months of the Batista regime, Fleming's densely populated second novel is packed with color, violence and history, but the action is sporadic and the narrative meanders. In 2002's The Ivory Coast , a white jazz musician named Deacon ran into some trouble in Las Vegas; now, three years later, he's going by the name of Peter Sloan, working at the Tropicana Hotel in Havana and mooning after his lost love, the beautiful Anita. Coincidentally, Anita is visiting Havana with her current paramour, real estate magnate Nick Calloway. Other characters from The Ivory Coast , including Sloan's benefactor, casino owner Mo Weiner, an associate of mobster Meyer Lansky, mingle with numerous new characters, among them conflicted Luis Cardoso, a Cuban security agent repelled by his government's cruelty; enigmatic Scarfioti, an American government informer; and many revolutionaries, including saintly Carlos "El Gato" Delgado, an associate of Castro, and Nilsa, a female freedom fighter. When Anita is kidnapped by the revolutionaries, Sloan, Calloway and Cardoso set out for the Sierra Maestra with the ransom. A climactic airport gunfight seals the fates of the entire cast. Double crosses and misunderstandings drive this many-layered novel, which is an ambitious near miss. Fleming's evocation of sultry Havana, insight into Cuban politics and society, and exhilarating action scenes are overwhelmed by all the characters who muse and reminisce too readily. As Delgado notes, a "certain amount of self-reflection was a fine thing.... Too much reflection made for poor revolutionaries." It makes for uneven novels, too. Agent, David Vigliano. (Jan. 22)

FYI: Fleming is the coauthor of the bestselling A Goomba's Guide to Life and The Goomba's Book of Love with Steven Schirripa (aka Bobby Bacala on The Sopranos); he also coauthored Charles Moose's account of the Beltway sniper attacks, Three Weeks in October.

Reviewed on: 11/17/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-312-42450-3
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