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Cuba Libre Hardcover – January 12, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Elmore Leonard has a long track record of creating memorable characters--enough to bring life to many movies, the two most notable being Get Shorty and Jackie Brown(based on Leonard's Rum Punch). Both are pretty good movies, but the novels are much better. Today Leonard writes mostly "crime" novels, labeled as such because his characters struggle to be good in a world so full of temptation that some kind of crime is always involved.

Cuba Libre finds Leonard reaching for a broader audience than those which appreciated either his crime novels or the westerns he once wrote, which he accomplishes by combining elements of both. Ben Tyler is a cowboy who robs banks, but only those that contain money of people who owe but won't pay him--he only takes what they owe. Charlie Burke is a businessman who buys horses cheap in the west, then sells them to exporters, while heroine Amelia Brown is the mistress of one of the truly bad men in the novel and struggles with dilemmas similar to those endured by other cast members.

Begining around the time that the Maine is sunk in Havana Harbor and ending when Teddy and others storm San Juan Hill, the story is at its best when its colorful characters are turned loose in one of the novel's colorful settings. If you like Leonard, you'll love Cuba Libre, and if--for some reason--you haven't yet discovered the author, prepare for a real treat.

From School Library Journal

YA-This book has something to interest almost everyone. Set against the rich and compelling backdrop of Cuba during its struggle for independence, the story includes bank robbery, cattle rustling, love, suspense, and action-packed adventure. Realistic, memorable characters come to life in the scheming twists and turns of a complex plot. Leonard writes in an easy-to-follow style; his bad guys are truly BAD, and readers find themselves rooting for the hero and heroine as they hide, the Spanish Civil guards in hot pursuit. The plot is larded with history, beginning with the sinking of the USS Maine in the harbor of Havana, and ending with Roosevelt and his Rough Riders's charge up San Juan Hill. A rare glimpse of the Spanish-American War and the fight for Cuban independence.
Anita Short, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press (January 12, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385323832
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385323833
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,005,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elmore Leonard wrote forty-five novels and nearly as many western and crime short stories across his highly successful career that spanned more than six decades. Some of his bestsellers include Road Dogs, Up in Honey's Room, The Hot Kid, Mr. Paradise, Tishomingo Blues, and the critically acclaimed collection of short stories Fire in the Hole. Many of his books have been made into movies, including Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Rum Punch, which became Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. Justified, the hit series from FX, is based on Leonard's character Raylan Givens, who appears in Riding the Rap, Pronto, Raylan and the short story "Fire in the Hole". He was a recipient of the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN USA, and the Grand Master Award of the Mystery Writers of America. He was known to many as the 'Dickens of Detroit' and was a long-time resident of the Detroit area.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Larry Scantlebury on November 10, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I believe that at the end of the day, Elmore Leonard will be considered by many as one of the best novelists of this generation. His prose is tight; his characters are multi dimensional and speak in compressed, vivid dialogue. When Charley Burke asks Ben Tyler, having just been released from the Arizona State Prison at Rosemary, Arizona in 1898, if he learned anything following his incarceration for bank robbery and the ensuing, relentless pursuit of the posse, Ben tells him "Yes. Next time I need more fresh horses."
Charley, Ben, the lovely Amelia, her evil keeper, the Spanish captors and the homeric insurrectionists (ocassionally they swap moralities), all coalesce on the island of Cuba a few days after the USS Maine is blown up in the harbor.
This is Leanord at his best: Colorfully, flawed characters, women who love hard, oftentimes for the wrong man, evildoers with streaks of decency, downtrodden individuals with streaks of evil, fabulous booty that's chased, followed, captured, lost, gained, lost again, regained, and the type of dialogue that from time to time makes you put the book down, repeat the line to yourself, and smile.
Just like Hammet, Chandler, DeMille, and Parker, you have to first like Leonard. If you do, this is a master at the heighth of his craft. Enjoy.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Berquist on January 6, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Fans of Elmore Leonard will find "Cuba Libre" to be an interesting and utterly worthwhile departure for this author. Unlike his more famous novels, this is not a contemporary exploration of people making their way in a society which punishes them for the choices they made so long ago.
The place is Havana, Cuba. The time is 1898. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish-American War, a group of Americans are trying to survive the soldiers of Cuba's Spanish regime and pull off a heist against a wealthy Cuban landowner.
The themes of Leonard's novel are the same- a heist to part a fool with his money, Americans dealing with the legacy of poor choices, the system against the heros. But the change here is the time of the story, and Leonard really shines in giving the readers a vision of what Cuba was like at the end of the 19th Century. The reader can almost feel the humidity of Havana, the sound of music from the city, the sights and sounds of 1898 Cuba pulsating through Leonard's prose.
The characters are dependably interesting, if a little familiar at the same time. Leonard's prose is excellent as usual, and the story never flags or fails to hold the reader's interest. Very good work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ash Ryan on March 31, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This was my first Elmore Leonard novel, and I have to say, I thought it was just okay. The historical setting was interesting, the protagonists (Ben and Amelia) were quite likeable, and the villains were suitably vile, and for a while there the plot looked like it was really going somewhere, albeit slowly. However, the climactic train heist, with a good half dozen separate parties after the loot (one hell of a set-up), basically fizzled, and after that not much of interest occurred.

I wouldn't say Cuba Libre was a waste of time to read, and I might try another Elmore Leonard novel again sometime, but if I'd had a bit more advance warning about this one I probably would have skipped it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Simon DelMonte on August 17, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm not a huge fan of Mr. Leonard's work, but I like a good historical novel and a good crime novel, so I gave this a whirl. While many of the supporting characters are fairly interesting, the main characters don't quite escpae from their penny dreadful roots. The middle of the book, where the plot solidifies and the history and politics are stripped away to reveal a more larcenous heart, is very good, but it leads to a rushed and unsatisfying conclusion where the Spanish-American War oddly becomes only a footnote after many pages of build-up. If you're expecting any real people to show up, try elsewhere.
This makes perfectly acceptable beach reading, but if you want a crime novel with bite, I'd recommend something by Donald Westlake/Richard Stark instead.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Scott Schiefelbein VINE VOICE on September 30, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Elmore Leonard's "Cuba Libre" bears an inapt title. "Cuba Libre" implies that Leonard has created some of his trademark cowboys and thieves getting caught up in a political revolution. To a certain extent that's true, as the book indeed has some classic Leonardesque characters, and there is a revolution in the wake of the U.S.S. Maine being blown up, but the war that racks the Cuban countryside rarely rises above an inconvenience (or an opportunity) for Leonard's cast of ne'er-do-wells.

Fortunately, a possibly inapt title is a forgivable sin. We read Mr. Leonard's novels for their wicked dialogue and hard-edged yet open-hearted heroes (along with the hard-edged and hard-hearted villains). "Cuba Libre" has these traits in spades.

Ostensibly the "hero" of the tale, Ben Tyler runs both horses and guns to Cuba on the eve of the Maine's destruction. The imminent war sets devious wheels a-turning, as does Tyler's instant infatuation with Amelia, a spoiled rich girl from New Orleans. Problem is, Amelia's beau is Rollie Boudreaux, an amoral business tycoon from America who uses ruthlessness to advance both his business and romantic interests.

Leonard's characters hop-scotch through a byzantine plot that involves robbery, murder, kidnapping, extortion, torture, false imprisonment, jailbreaks, political revolution, and more than a wee bit of plain old thievery. Along the way, our heroes and villains meet other characters of unknown morals but a well-demonstrated ability to kill at the drop of a hat. For Tyler, it is easy to come to Cuba having never killed a man only to discover that he has quite the talent for it.
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