Monday, December 26, 2016

A Holiday Gone Wrong

Brighton RockBrighton Rock by Graham Greene
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd just finished a book about 1940s/50s Cuba, in which Graham Greene is mentioned as having visited and enjoyed a place where "one could obtain anything at will, whether drugs, or women, or goats". Since I've been meaning to read more Greene, I figured now would be a good time for Our Man in Havana.

A couple days pass, things come up, apparently my memory is shit, and for some reason I start reading Brighton Rock. Hey, why the fuck not?! I'm an idiot...

This book has very little to do with Cuba. Zero actually. It's set in beach-resort south England in which some young hoods roll a newspaper man for his holiday money and have to spend the rest of the time looking over their shoulders, because some random and tenacious woman won't let the matter rest even though the police have dropped the case.

Greene created some great characters here. I wanted to wring their necks, the violent little brutes. His wastrel criminals remind one of Fagin's children from Oliver Twist, but with a touch more dimension to the focus gangster than say the Artful Dodger receives. It's that fold of character that makes you see Greene's creation as human, pitiably human.

At times the novel seems simplistic, especially to mystery readers, who easily can suss out the herrings and what seems like heavy-handed foreshadowing. But Greene should not be underestimated. His work is solid in Brighton Rock.

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The Mob in Cuba

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba & Then Lost it to the RevolutionHavana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba & Then Lost it to the Revolution by T.J. English
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do you like The Godfather II? Then read this and learn about the real gangsters behind the mob's 1950s invasion of Cuba.

TJ English packs in a lot of information regarding a relatively thin sliver of time, creating in Havana Nocturne the perfect time-capsule history lesson, both exciting and captivating.

English lays out the twisted web that was 1940s/50s Cuba, including the US Navy's WWII deal with Luciano that got the mobster released from prison, Cuban President Batista's friendship with the US and the mob, the CIA's assistance of the Castro/Guevara revolution against the US-backed Batista regime, and more deceitful good times!

I've had a fascination with gangsters and the mafia since first seeing the Godfather movies, which are heavily-based on real life criminals and incidents surrounding them. In Coppola's sequel, the setting shifts to the burgeoning hotel casino and club nightlife of Havana, Cuba just as it did for mob leaders like Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Santo Trafficante. How they seized control, paid off the Cuban government and essentially overran an entire country is amazing.

With this book I got so much more than just unbelievable stories about gangsters. The people's revolt, led by the then little-known Fidel Castro, whose bumbling and poorly outfitted attempts by all rights never should have succeeded, is an incredible life-or-death fairytale. The anything-goes party atmosphere upon the island nation rival the so-called sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. The United States' tourists, wealthy businessmen and politicians like JFK throwing their money and bodies into the carnal fray, while its government looked down its nose and cried "SHAME!" is best.

That any of this ever happened is astounding. The way English tells the tale is outstanding.

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