Cigar Aficionado

After Havana

The Cuba of Charles Fleming's new novel After Havana (Picador, $14) is a collision course of gangsters, revolutionaries, playboys and dangerous women colluding and carousing in back alleys and nightclubs as Fidel Castro and his troops plot from the mountaintops to take Havana.

If you ever wondered what it was like in the heyday of the island, before the Soviets and communism and the embargo, when capitalism was king and then dictator Fulgencio Batista's police guarded the almighty foreign dollar with a heavy hand, this book (through its fictional story line) gives you a glimpse of what it might have been like to live there -- the people, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the action and the fear.

Set in the 1950s, the novel depicts a city clinging to its identity as a playground for American tourists. The fast-paced book is filled with action and the characters seem to embody the diverse personalities who inhabited the island. The plot, mixing elements of historical drama, mystery and crime, weaves together the lives of characters who are unaware of their connection to one another. The reader follows them in their day-to-day existence and learns what brought them to Cuba as their paths lead to a crossing.

The novel will be a fine complement to a frosty rum-flavored beverage, a premium cigar and a nice seat on the beach -- even if it's not in Cuba.

After Havana, Fleming's second was published this month. His first, The Ivory Coast, is also set in the 1950s and touches on the history of Las Vegas by following the lives of some of the city's archetypal characters. Look for both novels in your local bookstores.

Photo by Jean Schwarzwalder