three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
user_rating: 
0

A-HavanaRoomIt's been a bad year for Bill Wyeth. After accidentally killing his son's friend in a freak accident, Wyeth, once a hotshot lawyer, has hit the skids. Deserted by his family, fired from his job, and threatened with a lawsuit, Wyeth finds solace in a midtown-Manhattan steakhouse. Enthralled by the leggy manager, he finds himself on the wrong end of a bargain when he brokers a shady real estate deal for her boyfriend simply to get a peek at the restaurant's mysterious Havana Room. Soon Wyeth finds himself in the arms of a frozen corpse and threatened by a Chilean vineyard owner and a gun-toting, hip-hop club owner. From then on, it's a matter of staying alive.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 400 pages. $24.

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Harrison is also for people who revel in exquisite storytelling. ... In typical Harrison fashion, the story at a glance defies compelling description, none of the basic tenets of crime fiction is here, no burned-out detectives, no grumpy lieutenants, no brilliant criminal masterminds, just a real estate deal from hell and a moving paternal morality play, in part because of its off-the-wall originality, and in part because it unfolds like a reality TV series in which each test is more twisted and bizarre than the last." Larry Brooks

NY Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Harrison is a master of mood and atmosphere, and he give us in these pages a noirish New York that's at once recognizable as the day-lighted city we all work in, and as frightening as the nightmare place we all dread." Michiko Kakutani

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[He] is a cinematic writer, and the combination of his fast-paced plotting and graphic imagery can give The Havana Room an almost comic-book feel, and I mean that in the best sense." Jonathan Mahler

People 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A veteran of four previous Manhattan thrillers, Harrison populates this hard-boiled novel with characters fixated not just on riches but on exotic meals: a noir Bonfire of the Vanities meets Iron Chef." Edward Nawotka

Economist 3 of 5 Stars
"...an engagingly unconventional thriller, full of ruminations of the human condition. ... Mr. Harrison is much more interested in the subtler shadings of goodness and weakness than he is in the gaudy displays of bang-pow-splat that typify so many other thrillers."

Pittsburgh Post-Gaz 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The mystery turns into a soap opera of lost love and romantic yearnings, a change that turns this hard-boiled thriller into a poached egg." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

Harrison won legions of fans with his previous novels Afterburn (2000) and Manhattan Nocturne (1997), and his new novel promises not to disappoint. The suspenseful plot, film noir atmosphere, and unique details like hallucinogenic sushi will keep readers actively engaged. What's more, in Bill Wyeth, Harrison has created a character with a lot to lose, his family, career, and sanity, for starters, and his plight provides an emotional backdrop to the chases and killings. A few naysayers found that the thrill wore off, that Harrison displayed a tendency to overwrite, and that he sometimes stretched the limits of plausibility. For the most part, however, critics were drawn into both the internal and external drama of Wyeth's life, and cheered him on his search for redemption.