|Havana Best Friends is an
entertaining book with an awkward title. A cache of diamonds,
death-bed confessions, and double-crossings make for an engaging
caper. As Batista¹s regime was crumbling in the pre-Castro
period, its corrupt supporters (i.e. all of them) stashed the
valuables which they couldn¹t carry off. These particular
diamonds have been nestling in a Havana apartment for more than
forty years, unknown to the current occupants. They are a sharply
contrasted brother and sister. He is Pablo, a seedy chancer who
earns his dollars through pimping and video porn, while she is the
beautiful and sympathetic Elena, a special-needs teacher.
The son of the Batista supporter, now a blind Vietnam vet living in
the US and hearing his dying father¹s secret, recruits Bruce
Lawson, another vet, as well as Spanish-speaking Rita to go to Cuba.
Masquerading as husband and wife, the couple are to talk their way
into the Havana apartment and get their hands on the treasure, by
persuasion, subterfuge or force.
In this kind of story the only question is not if but when things
will start to go wrong. Jose Latour has produced eight novels (this
is the second written in English) and his expertise is shown by the
way in which he causes the different lines of the narrative to
intersect. Lawson is dogged by a killer whom he met during the dirty
war in Nicaragua, while the Cuban brother and sister are haunted by
their violent family history. On the trail of all of them is
policeman Felix Trujillo, and a sympathetically presented bunch of
investigators - overworked, demoralised but still fundamentally
Havana Best Friends delivers some surprises as characters and
careers come to an abrupt stop but the ending is relatively upbeat.
Among the most intriguing aspects are the glimpses of Havana which
Latour offers (without pushing them under the reader¹s nose): a
city where each block has its government spy, where the US fridges
are 50 years old, and where idealism and corruption are oddly