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Havana: An Earl Swagger Novel (Earl Swagger Novels) Mass Market Paperback – March 29, 2005

4.0 out of 5 stars 175 customer reviews
Book 3 of 3 in the Earl Swagger Series

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Mass Market Paperback, March 29, 2005
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--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The field of male fantasy fiction receives a generous literary boost with the publication of Havana, Stephen Hunter's third novel (following Hot Springs and Pale Horse Coming) to feature straight-shooting ex-Marine and Arkansas state policeman Earl Swagger.

Reluctantly leaving his wife and hero-worshipping son at home, Swagger flies off to Cuba in 1953 to act as a bodyguard for "Boss" Harry Etheridge, a rainmaking Southern congressman who proposes investigating the influence of New York gangsters on the Guantanamo Naval Base. Almost as soon as his lungs fill with the humid Caribbean air, Swagger regrets accepting this assignment. Not only must he contend with posturing, backstabbing U.S. intelligence agents, but Boss Harry proves to be both incautiously lustful (forcing Earl to rescue him from a Havana brothel confrontation) and a big target for mobsters who don't want American politicians or anyone else upsetting the profitable criminal equilibrium of Batista-era Cuba. Swagger exacerbates the risk to his longevity by agreeing to help the U.S. government assassinate Cuba's revolutionary darling of the moment, Fidel Castro--a task that will pit this Arkansas lawman against a disenchanted Russian killer who's been charged with protecting and mentoring the 26-year-old agitator.

Given Swagger's well-established weaponry skills, it's hardly surprising that Havana is peppered with tightly choreographed shootouts, both on dusty country roads and in a Zanja Street porno theater full of moaning patrons. That's the male fantasy part; this novel's literary inclination shows in its portrayal of Havana as a richly decadent city full of shiny-fendered Cadillacs, jaded whores, and casinos flushing money onto Florida-bound boats. While Ernest Hemingway and mob boss Meyer Lansky make cameo appearances here, only Castro leaves much of an impression, whether he's bumbling through an attack on a military barracks or defending himself against a father who thinks him lazy, vain, and "womanly" ("I am between opportunities, but I swear to you, I am a man of destiny"). Although Swagger's climactic gunfight tests the limits of credibility, Havana remains an unusually substantive page-turner, expertly blending hostilities with humor and heart. --J. Kingston Pierce --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Earl Swagger Novels
  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books (March 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743457978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743457972
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,516,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David W. Nicholas on June 23, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Stephen Hunter has come a long way since he wrote (and I read) The Master Sniper, perhaps two decades ago. I have to say I wasn't very impressed with that book, and it was some years before I picked up another of Hunter's books, Point of Impact as it happened. I still think that's his best book, though Time to Hunt is also very good, and the rest of his books since then are an improvement over his earlier works.

Point of Impact's hero was a retired Marine sniper named Bob Lee Swagger. After writing several books with him in them, Hunter did several involving Bob Lee's father, Earl Swagger, who's a Medal of Honor recipient Marine who returned to the states and became an Arkansas state trooper. The elder Swagger has been the subject of three novels: Hot Springs, Pale Horse Coming, and Havana, the subject of this review. In all three, Hunter does a decent job of putting Earl Swagger into interesting situations, and then having him shoot his way out of them, but frankly I think Havana to be the best of the three. It spends more time dealing with his character, what makes him tick, and why he is built the way he is, mentally and psychologically.

Swagger is a killer, a fighter who enjoys the finality of a gunshot as a way to solve problems and fix disagreements he has with killers and criminals. In the current entry, he's convinced to trundle along to Cuba with the entourage of a local Congressman who's a wheel in the House of Representatives. Earl of course has to keep him out of trouble in a whorehouse, and when the mob figures out why the Congressman's in town (he's investigating whether mob influence is polluting the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo) Earl has to thwart an assassination attempt.
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Format: Hardcover
Stephen Hunter has a great knack for country attitudes, good shooting, complex stories and politics.

In "Havana" Hunter captures a moment in time when Castro is just emerging (the Yankees having failed to offer him a $500 signing bonus) and Batista is back in power with the help of the American mob.

Just as in "Hot Springs" where Hunter resurrected the great pre-Las Vegas center of gambling and prostitution (matched in that era only by Youngstown), here he reminds us that Havana in the early 1950s was a city of power seekers, tourist pleasures and American and Cuban mobster domination and corruption.

He weaves together a brilliant Soviet agent, Earl Swagger (hated by the Soviet system for his individuality and protagonist of almost half Hunter's novels), the CIA, the American mob, Fidel Castro and the Cuban secret police into a wonderfully complex and constantly intriguing story.

His characterizations of a young Castro are worth the entire book: "Speshnev looked hard at him and, try as he could, only saw a familiar type, thrown up by revolutions and wars the world over. An opportunist with a lazy streak, and also a violent one... No vision beyond the self, but a willingness to use the vernacular of the struggle for his own private careerism." (p. 101)

"He does carry on don't he? He reminds me of a movie star. They get famous too young and they never recover. They always think they're important." Earl Swagger on young Fidel (p 319)

Whether for fun or learning or both, this is a worthwhile novel.
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Format: Hardcover
In an afterword, Hunter explains that he got the book from his well known editor, Michael Korda. Korda gave it to him in four words: "Earl Swagger in Havana." This allows Hunter a rich set of characters to draw on, such as Castro and Meyer Lansky. It also allows him to throw Swagger into a multi-sided situation -- the CIA and Cuban government, the gangsters with ties to both the CIA and the Government but pursuing their own interests as well, and the Soviets, with their interests in creating unrest. Castro plays an important role as a bumbling revolutionary with a gift for speechmaking, some courage and not much else (I doubt that this is an accurate picture of Castro). Swagger is brought to Cuba on pretext, as a body-guard for a ridiculous Congressman and his aide -- the real reason is that the CIA wants to have Swagger kill Castro.
What follows is typical Hunter, gun battles with the weapons described in detail; Hunter's odd ability to create tension by describing events out of chronolocial order (you'll read a vague description of what happened, followed by a flashback that shows what actually happened); and Earl Swagger's ability to one-up any man around him. John Wayne would have loved to have played this character.
There's more humor in this book than usual; an argument between between the terrified Congressman and his even more terrified aide when under fire had me laughing out loud. Castro is also a subject for many jokes, although whether this is deserved or not I can't say. Hemingway makes a brief, but disastorous cameo that unfortunately is in keeping with his behavior, particularly at that time.
I find Earl Swagger a more interesting character than his son, Bob Lee, who was the subject of Hunter's first three novels in the Swagger series.
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