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2003 – Havana


From Publishers Weekly
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… read more

Book Description

Havana, the sultry spring of 1953: gambling is expensive, sex is cheap, and death is free.

A half-hour by air from Miami, it’s the world’s hottest — and most dangerous — city. From the plush mobster casinos in Centro to the backstreet brothels on Zanja Street, you can get anything you want, for a price. The city is the linchpin of many empires: the Mafia’s, the CIA’s, numerous American corporations’, El Presidente’s, and even the vice lords’ of Old Havana. It must be protected at all costs.

But now there’s a threat. A young lawyer, a kid named Castro, is giving speeches. He speaks of reform, of change, of self-determination. He speaks of…of revolution even.

This danger must be dealt with. So, into the steamy, sunny climate of corruption come two men, both unafraid, both skilled, both tough as ball bearings. They would be friends in a sane world, for they are so similar in their capabilities and experiences. But now they have to be enemies, because the Cold War is at its apogee: one is American, the other Russian.

The American is named Earl Swagger. A Medal of Honor winner on Iwo Jima, a toughened gunman from adventures in Hot Springs and the swamps of Mississippi, Earl has been conned by two young Old Boys of the CIA to become Our Gun in Havana.

The Russian, Speshnev, also a veteran of tough battles (from Spain in ‘36 to Berlin in ‘45, with a few stays in the gulag just for seasoning), has a similar assignment: he too is sent by strategic gamesters to pay attention to that same young orator. But his job is protection, not elimination.

Neither man’s assignment will be easy. For, like an orchid hot house, Havana’s climate grows spectacular specimens: the wise old mobster king Meyer Lansky, who runs the casinos for his nervous New York sponsors; the syndicate hitman Frankie Carbine, Frankie Horsekiller of the famed Times Square massacre; the secret police officer called Ojos Bellos — Beautiful Eyes — for his penchant to interrogate at scalpel point; the beautiful Filipina Jean-Marie Augustine, who knows so much; and even those crew-cut, cheery young CIA fellows on the embassy’s Third Floor, behind whose baby-blues and tender faces lurk all manner of deviousness. And everybody wants something.

In Havana, Stephen Hunter has produced a truly epic adventure story, shot-through with violence, eroticism, and the pressures of big money and big politics, set in a legendary time and place. His hero, Earl Swagger, fights his enemies, his superiors, and his own temptations and, in the end, has to decide what is worth killing for — and what is worth dying for. He knows only one thing for certain: that he’s a pawn in somebody else’s game. But a pawn with a Colt Super .38 in his shoulder holster and the skill and will to use it fast and well is a formidable man, indeed.



You can help support my volunteer website to chronicle Stephen Hunter’s writings by buying Havana from Amazon.com. You pay the same – but I get a small commission. Click the image at left to buy the paperback, and thanks for your support!

15 Responses to “2003 – Havana”

  1. Tom Chapman Says:

    I just discovered HAVANA at my local library. Couldn’t put it down! Mr. Hunter captured the times in Cuba with great accuracy.

    I had a brief visit to Havana in 1956. We stayed at the Plaza Hotel – just like Earl S. Not long after our stay there, some wild men shot up the Plaza lobby with a machine gun. I don’t think it was Frankie Carbine and his compadre, I believe Earl had already taken care of them, but the similarities between the fiction and the real thing continue through the book.

    I met a Jean-Marie Augustine several years later. Unfortunately he was a guy. He had managed Pan American Airways offices around the islands for years. He had many similar stories to tell.

    I’m sure that Speshnev and Pashin are fictional characters, but I’d be willing to bet that there were real counterparts.

    HAVANA has inspired me to start a study of this fascinating period of Cuban history. Thank you for an interesting book Mr. Hunter.

  2. Todd Smith Says:

    I'm a huge fan of Stephen Hunter and his Swagger sagas. Though this was a good book, it's my least favorite of them all. If you're a fan of any of Hunters books, I would suggest starting at the begining with Point of Impact, and continiue through at least until Black Light. I've read a lot of books, and to this day… nothing has given me as big a shock as the ending of Black Light (Awesome!).

  3. Bruce Henderson Says:

    Agree w/ Todd, though I have held off reading Point of Impact because I had seen the movie….have read Hot Springs, Dirty White Boys,Pale Horse Coming, Havana, Black Light , Time to Hunt, 47th Samurai, and Night of Thunder. They really stand alone but the order above worked out fine for knowing how things were connected. Hot Springs, Pale Horse, and Black Light were really good for Earl Swagger, who is a great iconic character. For audio books, I like Beau Bridges, but particularly liked the actor who read Pale Horse (forgot his name and my tapes are lent out).

  4. Rich Turyn Says:

    Nice book but a lightweight compared to others. Great Frenchy Short coming into his own, hilarious dastardly Cuban cop-thug, funny Castro. Well worth reading but when is the next blockbuster coming?

  5. tim warner Says:

    I am finding Havana to be terribly slow-going compared to all the others I have read. I put Stephen Hunter at the top of my list as a true craftsman in the field of fiction, but I have to confess that I am somewhat disappointed by Havana. Was he having some difficulties in his life at the time of writing Havana which may have distracted him? I am certainly not complaining. I have noticed however when I taste the best in anything (i.e. Stephen Hunter’s other books)it is difficult to settle for less than the best when I know it’s available!

  6. dave pyatt Says:

    Interesting to see Frenchy Short, as a now CIA agent after he launched his career in “Hot Springs”. If one has read “Black Light” before or after, you realize Bob Lee runs across Frenchy’s name in investigating the sniper shooting of his father. Frenchy was running some ops in Vietnam and was known for his use of the .38 Super. Another cross over character is the official KGB man in Havana who runs Sphesnev. He later appears in “Time to Hunt” as the shadowy person associated with Ward Bonson. Julie Fenn sees his face on a remote farm and decades later is targeted by Bob’s Soviet sniper nemesis. Mr. Hunter is the only author whose books I have read at least twice (all of them).

  7. pete ryder Says:

    I don’t agree with Tim Warner’s comments, above.
    As with every other Stephen Hunter work I have read I have found it unputdownable, to the point where I will wake at 3AM and continue reading, profound in the insights into human relationships, father-son in particular, contained in the novel, complex, and in places very funny indeed.
    A brilliant work among many by a brilliant writer, with a very refreshing lack of political correctness.

  8. G. Jones Says:

    I am fairly new to Mr. Hunter’s work,& I love everything I’ve read, I started at the beginning, & just finished Havana. Every time I finish one of his books I think it’s his best work, until I start the next one. I would like to see another Earl novel in the future!

  9. G. Jones Says:

    As Pete states above Stephen Hunter’s work is “unputdownable”!

  10. Count Stagger Says:

    This was a cracking novel. While the Bob Lee books are superb, I think I prefer those with Earl and the idea of Earl in Havana was a great one.

    For a writer who’s not exactly a member of the socialist party, Hunter wrote about Castro and Batista reasonably fairly and didn’t try to pretend that pre-revolutionary Cuba was a nice place to be. This allowed some fairly nasty villains for Earl to come up against, especially Ojos Bellos, a particularly memorable torturer.

    Recommended as always.

  11. Imjin138 Says:

    I enjoy the Earl Swagger novels more than the Bob Lee ones. I hope to see a new Earl novel soon, I have just re-read Havana and loved it when i am finished I will re-read Hot Springs.

    Personally I enjoy them all

  12. George Piliev Says:

    Mr. Hunter,

    To impress someone, who grow up on Russian classical literature is very difficult. Mr. Hunter – You did it with success. It is great pleasure to read your books.
    You are great maestro.

    With respect,

    George Piliev

  13. Havanaman Says:

    I have lived in both Santiago and Havana plus the usual 10 or so All-Inclusives from one end to the other and I can tell you this great book was well researched. Familiarity with geographical references enriches the reading experience dramatically (I am Canadian, can go there freely, sorry) and I could taste the places described.
    Also, the historical data and sequencing allowed for an actual scenario as portrayed in the book to have been feasible, if not downright likely given the climate of the time, allowing for the manipulations vital to the fictional story. Castro indeed had a thousand fortuitous ducks line up for him to get where he did…
    Anyway, this book was a favourite with me, read them all 10 times and Havana may only fully resonate with the Kooba familiar.
    Man, renting a pink 1959 Caddy ragtop with driver and cruising the Malecon with a cold Chrystal or 10 and a long lean 20 year old Chica beside me…
    Ummmm.

  14. Eric Harper Says:

    Now we just need a story that deals with Frenchy! HAVANA would seem to suggest that there is more to Earl’s finale in BLACK LIGHT than meets the eye. And Hunter has demonstrated, with “Casey at the Bat,” that he is comfortable returning to characters after a long hiatus.

  15. Ranger1957 Says:

    I loved Havana but it is true that it doesnt read like any of the other Hunter books.

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