In much the same way that the only true means to learn a foreign language is to immerse oneself in that country’s culture, the same is true for an author as they weave the atmosphere of their literary works. As a result, some choose to base their novels on more familiar grounds; places and ways of life that the reader can easily relate to, and while adding an element of realism and credibility, this element also leaves the book somewhat washed out, dull, yet another novel amid the masses already wrote. Basing the setting in foreign land is thus a way to avoid this pitfall, yet in doing so the author risks difficulties in portraying that foreign land correctly: no culture is alike in philosophy, ways of life fundamentally different and unless the writer can get hold of that fact, the characters and setting will feel out of place, or even completely fake.
This is not the case for Havana Queen by James Bruno.
Even in the prologue, the atmosphere is undeniably, unmistakeably Cuban as experienced by someone who has visited that island, so close to the United States and yet so different in government. Just reading the vivid descriptions contained in these pages conjures up Cuba; dark and brooding, muggy and hot, the air carrying a riot of exotic bouquets like the opaque yet fragrant scent of Cuban cigars and the distant aroma of sugar cane, even the rumbles and mechanical growls of the venerable engines of the ancient vehicles as they make their way round the sun-baked tarmac roads. Even the typical Cuban mindset is very much present and vividly described- struggling through each day to scrape enough of a living to ensure they make it to the next one; the interminable waiting interspersed with frantic bursts of activity, such as protesting against an oppressive government, trying to nurture hope for the future despite the depressing surroundings, seeing preventable deaths from hunger or accidents while all the while knowing that the promised land is so tantalizingly close.
But I digress, while stunning, the setting and atmosphere by themselves do not a story make, but James Bruno has spun a gripping story of intrigue and action, of modern day cloak-and-dagger antics interspersed with a certain tautness, an undeniable tense, drawn atmosphere that has been so lacking in modern-day novels until now. The sun-baked yet decaying and vacillating Cuban government clinging stubbornly to power while a rising rebellion attempts to oust them as they did to the former regime in the 1950s, a likeable protagonist, a steamy love triangle and the simultaneous deaths of three agents with only the bullet calibre the common denominator; this book is damn near impossible to put down after you’ve started into it. A thoroughly riveting tale!