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CompleteMartialArts.com - Havana : An Earl Swagger Novel (Hunter, Stephen)


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Binding: Hardcover
Format: Bargain Price
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 416
Publication Date: 2003-09-30

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Editorial Reviews:

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.


Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5
Summary: Havana... a thriller that wasn't.
Comment: It's Cuba in the fifties. Castro's just starting out, trying to make a name for himself and the Mafia (among others) doesn't like it. With the Cold War in full swing, the Soviet Union sends out a veteran agent to make sure Castro's revolution succeeds, while the CIA summons their own ex-marine Earl Swagger, to make sure he fails. And thus the games begin.

This wasn't a particularly bad book, but a thriller is expected to contain certain attributes that this one lacked. At no time was I on the edge of my seat in suspense, nor was I excited at the prospect of what would come next. What it boils down to is that I wasn't engaged by this story. I wasn't interested in what I was reading; I simply didn't care.

The story itself felt like a cliché (hero good, government bad- very little gray area in that world) and somewhat contrived. It seemed there was a list of details the author was determined to include and regardless of how much these details spilled over the sides of the cart or had to be shoved in between the seat cushions, like it or not they were going to be there. If you've seen Pirates of the Caribbean III you'll know what I mean: the story simply would not end.

The characters were two-dimensional, lacking both depth and personality past anything that was expected of their stereotypical roles. At times they also tended to be untrue to their natures. In the real world a strong, smart, morally upright person who supposedly lives and breathes for his family is not going to take on someone else's fight for no good reason, but in this story the audience is supposed to gloss over such tiny inconsistencies. I should also mention that there was little innovation and the twists were lackluster at best with only the Russian agent bringing forth any sort of fun or interest.

If your kind of book revolves around the following: blood, guns, graphic violence, the seedy side of politics, sex/prostitution and still more violence, then this book is for you. If on the other hand you require a bit more to enhance your need for blood lust, say fast-paced action and satisfying dialogue, then you may be disappointed with this offering.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Discovering Hunter
Comment: This is my first Stephen Hunter book, but not my last. He spends a lot of time on character building and location description, but the payback is when the novel builds to conclusion and you are immersed in the hero and the location and can paint a vivid mind picture. Swagger is an interesting protaganist, not a super-hero but obviously tough, with a heart of gold. Easy, quick, fun read.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5Average rating of 2/5
Summary: Contrived and disappointing
Comment: I was introduced to the works of Stephen Hunter this past summer after watching "Shooter". I liked the movie, but was curious to read the books after reading rave reviews here. I wasn't able to find "Point Of Impact", but picked up "Pale Horse Coming" and was suitably impressed. I've since read most of the books and this is easily my least favorite. The story is incredibly contrived and seems more to be an attempt at thrusting a good character into an imagined retread of historical events which were more interesting on their own. Castro, through central to the story, hinders the book rather than enhances it. And dumping Hemingway into the middle of it makes it seem like more of a cartoon than an adventure.

It seems like Hunter just wrote this book to make his agent happy to have product, especially after reading the afterword where he more or less admits he had no ideas of his own. While I still like Earl Swagger as a character (and after "Pale Horse Coming", it's hard not to like him,) this book doesn't do him much service. I'd recommend it for completists only.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Earl Swagger Hunts Again!
Comment: I fell in love with Stephen Hunter's Earl Swagger novels this year. Luckily I discovered the first one at the beginning and listened to them on audiobook in order. There are three of them so far. HOT SPRINGS, PALE HORSE COMING, and HAVANA.

The Swagger name may sound familiar to people. Mark Wahlberg just starred in the movie SHOOTER as Earl's son, Bob Lee Swagger. Stephen Hunter has been intermittently writing novels about father and son over the last few years. Earl's adventures are set in the 1940s and 1950s. Bob Lee's are more in present-day, and the latest novel in that series, THE 47th SAMURAI, has just been released.

If you haven't read any of the Swagger novels, I really recommend reading them in order. Both series tell a story that's more mosaic than anything else. Both are pieces of the other. Hunter began with Bob Lee's stories, then told the first of Earl's. Obviously the author has become enamored of both his creations. Unfortunately, Earl's adventures maybe at an end after HAVANA. I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only fan that hopes this isn't so. I do know that THE 47th SAMURAI has chapters in it from Earl's point of view, and that the plot revolves around choices both Swaggers face.

HAVANA ends up being more spy story than either of the two previous books about Earl Swagger. I think Hunter had a hard time fitting Earl into the plot in some ways. The previous two books hit harder and were more driven by Earl's choices. In this book, Earl seems to be reactive more than proactive.

Everything centers around the unrest in Havana in the 1950s. The United States government has a Central Intelligence Agency operation in place on the island and they're carefully monitoring the political backlash surging against Carlos Batista, who is friendly toward the Americans. As long as Batista is in control, American companies will flourish there. At one time, Havana was referred to as the Disneyland for adults, referring to the gambling, prostitution, drinking, and drugs available.

The New York Mafia has bested interest in the island government as well. Meyer Lansky was there overseeing mob-related business throughout those turbulent years. Hunter uses the mob-influenced history to his advantage throughout the novel. There's even a mob hitman working for Lansky who is called Frankie Horse after he gunned down a New York policemen and his mount. The mob bosses didn't like the idea that Frankie had killed the horse. As punishment, he was sent down to Havana.

The story takes a little while to get started. There's a lot of backstory to set up, but it's all important to provide a picture of the political and economic climate of Havana during those years. Hunter obviously did his research well and enjoyed the subject matter.

Earl gets called in by the government to write shotgun for a senator while he's down in Havana. Harry Etheridge is a southern congressman with a taste for prostitutes. Earl doesn't really care for the assignment, but he's tempted when those who hire him point out that he could provide a much different future for his young son and wife. Those two people mean everything to Earl, and that's one of the reasons that I enjoy him so much as a character.

Earl is plainspoken and humble, and his world is black and white. He doesn't drink because he knows he can't handle it. When he fights, he gives everything he's got because he knows nothing less will do. He's one of the most decorated soldiers to ever come out of the Pacific theater in World War II. And he knows what killing's all about.

This story is bigger than the previous two Earl Swagger novels. In the earlier books, the plot remained thin and Earl stayed in the spotlight nearly the whole time through. HAVANA offered up a richly textured series of events and characters that at times eclipsed Earl. I missed having him on the pages, but there was so much else going on that caught my attention.

Hunter also obviously fell in love with Speshnev, a Russian soldier that was freed from a Siberian prison camp. Spesnev became something of a political embarrassment to Moscow and was locked away in spite of his service during World War II. The old Russian is a wily and cunning man gifted with great, dark humor. I found myself wishing that Stephen Hunter would write a book about him at some point just so I can see everywhere Speshnev has been and what he has done.

So Stephen, if you're reading this, know that you already have one fan waiting for that book.

The chemistry between Swagger and Speshnev is electric. I spent much of the book fearing the time they would meet over gun barrels. In the beginning, Speshnev saves Earl's butt twice, but I knew that they were working at cross purposes and that conflict would at some point need to be resolved.

Hunter also seems to have great fun poking at the CIA's presence in Havana. The intelligence agency seems to be primarily a joke as he shows the emergence of the new "laidback" agents the kind of fit the preppy model. But Hunter also gives them one of Earl's oldest foes in the form of Frenchy Short, who betrayed Earl's team in Hot Springs.

After caring for Senator Etheridge, and getting shot up for his trouble, Earl gets pressured by the CIA to become an assassin and kill Fidel Castro. At the same time, the reader knows that Sheshnev has been sent there to educate young Castro and get him ready to take over Cuba as a communist partner.

Although the reader knows that Earl isn't going to kill Castro, a lot of the story still yet remains to play through. Even without the mystery and suspense of how Earl was going to kill Castro, I stayed glued to my radio as the audio book played. I hated getting out at my stops and often found excuses to run errands that could've waited or go buy a Coke so I could get through a particularly exciting sequence. The problem was that most of the sequences in the book are exciting and is difficult to leave Earl in any one place after the action gets going.

Readers of the previous two books will know that this one has been done differently. Some may not like it because Earl is off screen so much, but if they hang around till after everything is set up, they'll get to see Earl in his element: hunting men and struggling to stay alive under harsh circumstances.

I had a great time with this book. I hate to think that this is the end of it. I would love to see another novel of Earl any time in here. I would especially love to see a war novel recounting Earl's adventures in the Pacific. After Earl returns home to his family in Blue Eye, Arkansas, it's not long before he's murdered while carrying out his job as an Arkansas State Trooper, though not in this book. And that gives me hope that another novel may yet be in the offing.

If this is all there is, I appreciate all the great stories. Hunter gives his readers a character that is at once real and ideal. There aren't many like him, not in real life and not in fiction.


Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Earl is back
Comment: This guy can write. I like the way he brought in the character of Earl in previous books and how we are now finding out more and more about him and how these facts helped formed the man, which was later reflected in his son. Improbable fiction but who cares. Entertaining and well written, keep on writing them.


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