Begin on the night that my old life ended. Begin on a warm April evening with a rumpled thirty-nine-year-old man stepping out of his cab at Park Avenue and Seventy-seventh. Manhattan steams and rumbles around him. He needs food, he wants sex, he must have sleep, and he'd prefer them in that order. The cab speeds off. The time is 1 a.m., and he looks up at his apartment building with a heavy, encyclopedic exhalation, which in its lung depth and audible huh can be found his whole life-wish and dream, sadness and joy, victory and loss. Yes, his whole life swirls in that one wet breath-as it does in everyone's.
The idea was for him to get home in time for his son's birthday party, as a surprise. Even his wife isn't expecting him. But his plane was delayed leaving San Francisco, circled LaGuardia endlessly, and then the traffic into the city was slow, even at that hour, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway full of bumping badboys in smoked-glass SUVs, off-peak tractor-trailers, limos from hell. Now, planted on the pavement with his suitcase, our man loosens his red silk tie and top shirt button. He's tired of such constriction, though addicted to its rewards. And has he not been rewarded? Why, yes, of course-bonuses and dividends and compound interest and three-for-one splits. And does he not expect many more such rewards-semiannual wifely blow jobs, prompt service at the dry cleaner's, his secretary's unhesitating agreement to do whatever he asks? Yes, how could he not? He's worked for all these things.
He's a successful lawyer, our lawyer. My lawyer. My own lost self. He's been with his firm for fourteen years, made partner long ago. His client list includes a major major bank (run by dragons in suits, minority-owned by the House of Saud, accountable to no one), several real estate developers (testicle-munching madmen), a television network (puppets dangled by puppets), and various high-net-worth individuals (inheritors, connivers, marriage-flippers). He can handle these people. He's a man of brisk phone calls and efficient business lunches and clean paperwork. Dependable, but not a killer. Or rather, apparently not a killer. Not a screamer or a power-drinker or a deal-popper-no doors get blown off when he goes by, the secretaries don't look up. In fact, he should be a little flashier, but probably couldn't quite pull it off. His hair is too thin, his waist one Sunday Times too thick. On the third hand, the world runs on dependable, unflashy people like him and he knows it. People feel comfortable with him. The law firm feels comfortable. So he feels only somewhat uncomfortable, only a bit replaceable. He understands that it's going to be a slow climb. Five years long for every big one up. He sees the middle passage looming, the gray hair, the stiffness in the knees, the cholesterol pills. But not yet, quite. Where the climb ends, he isn't sure, but it probably involves golf and a boat and the urologist, and this is acceptable, almost. If there's a streak of fatalism in him, he keeps it under control. He wishes for many things and knows he'll get only a few. He wishes he were taller, richer, slimmer, and had screwed many more girls before getting married. His wife, Judith, who is five years younger, is quite lovely. He wishes, however, that she was just a little nicer to him. She knows that she's still quite lovely, for a while at least, until-as she has announced many times-she gets her mother's neck. (Will it be a softly bloated horror, or an udder of empty skin? He doesn't know; there's a family history of cosmetic surgery.) Meanwhile, he's been faithful and a good provider and even changed a few diapers when their son was young. Steady-the same guy year in and year out. Judith, however, believes in the reinventability of all things, especially herself, and has cycled through shiatsu, aromatherapy, yoga, Lord knows what. Wanting something, something else. Seems frustrated, even by her own orgasms. Wants, wants more. More what? Don't he and Judith have quite enough? Of course not. But such desire is dangerous. Thus the constant reinvention. He doesn't understand how that can be done; you are who you are, he believes, and that's it.
He'd like to reinvent his paycheck, however. He's paid a lot. But he's worth more. The old senior partners, amused and goatish, padding along the hallways, suck out more money than they bring in. Though he and Judith live in one of those apartment buildings where a silver-haired doorman greets every resident by name, he wishes that he were paid better-eighty percent would do-for Judith wants another child soon. And kids in New York City are expensive, totems of major money. The ability to project a couple of children through infancy, doctors' visits, baby-sitters, private school, music lessons, and summer camps while living in Manhattan requires a constant stream of after-tax cash. It's not just the cost of education and supervision; it's the protection, the cushioning. The city's children were traumatized enough by the World Trade Center attack. They don't need to see all the panhandlers with seeping sores, the crazies and subway-shitters. You hope to keep them segregated and supervised. Not loitering or dawdling or drifting, because to linger along the path home is to invite bad possibilities. The child snatcher, the pervert, the mob of taunting adolescents wielding box cutters. In Manhattan all monsters are proximate, if not by geography, then by imagination.
And the contours of the imagination are changed by money. The units of luxury get larger. And this lawyer, this man, my own man, this hairless ape in a size 44 suit, knows it. You eat what you kill, he tells himself. Kill more and you'll eat more. Another child means a new apartment, a bigger car. And keeping Selma, their baby-sitter, on for a few more years. He's paying Selma $48,000 a year, when you figure in the extras and freebies and vacations. That's $100,000 pretax. More than he made as a first-year lawyer! How amazing he can pay this, how terrible that he must! And Judith is expecting a big, shingled summer place on Nantucket someday, just like her friends have. Fifteen rooms, tennis court, heated gunite pool, koi pond. "You'll do it, I know you will!" she says brightly. He nods in dull acceptance at the years of work necessary; he'll be humpbacked with fatigue. Yes, money, he needs more money. He's making a ton, needs more! The law firm's compensation committee is run by a tightfisted bean counter named Larry Kirmer; our lawyer, a sophisticated man who made the review at Yale, has enjoyed fantasies of savagely beating Kirmer; these scenarios are quite pleasurable for him to indulge, and such indulgence results in his ability to appear cheerful and positive when in Kirmer's company. Kirmer has no idea of the imaginary wounds he's received, the eye-gougings, dropkicks to the groin, secret heart-punctures. But if Kirmer doubled his salary, the fantasies of violence and retribution would disappear. Life would be kinda great.
Now our man steps toward the apartment house admiring the cherry trees under the windows, just past their peak, as is our man himself. Passersby at this late hour notice nothing unusual about him; if he was once sleekly handsome, he is no longer; if he had once been a vigorous twenty-year-old, now he is paunched in the gut, a man who tosses a rubber football to his son, Timothy, on weekends. A man whose wife apparently does not mind that when he suggests that they have sex he uses mock-witty metaphors involving speedboats ("get up on my water skis") or professional basketball ("drive the lane"). Yes, apparently Judith likes his conventional masculinity. It does not cause any rearrangements of her femininity. It is part of Judith's life, her lifestyle, to be honest, which is not quite the same as a sofa or a minivan, but not utterly divisible from them, either. This is the way she prefers it, too, and any danger to their marriage will come not from a challenge to its conventionality-some rogue element, some dark and potent knight-but from her husband's sudden inability to sustain the marriage's predicatable comfort. He, for his part, doesn't yet understand such things, which is to say he doesn't really understand his wife. He understands his law firm and his son and the sports page. He is, in fact, very similar to a sofa or a minivan. He has never lost or gained very much. Just dents and unidentified stains. His griefs are thus far minor, his risks utterly safe, his passions unremarkable, his accomplishments incremental and, when measured against his enormous advantages of class and race and sex, more or less obligatory. If he has the capacity for deep astonishment or genuine brutality, it is as yet undiscovered.
Am I too hard on him, is my description cruel and dismissive? Probably. He was, after all, handsome enough, quite well thought of, dependable in word and deed. A real workhorse in the office. A heck of a guy. Right as rain, a straight shooter, a good dude. His waist really wasn't one Sunday Times too thick. He was even reasonably fit. But I am allowed to distort this man, to seek indications of weakness and decay, because it makes his fate easier to explain. And because that man-you know this already-that man was me, Bill Wyeth.
by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times,
"Mr. Harrison's emotionally detailed portrait of his narrator and his penchant for seeding his narrative with intriguing digressions...combine to create a consistently entertaining story....Mr. Harrison is a master of mood and atmosphere..."
by Publishers Weekly (Starred Review),
"Harrison's status as the noir poet of New York crime fiction will surely be enhanced by his latest thriller....Harrison's storytelling hums and his prose shimmers all the way through this fascinating adventure."
by Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review),
"Manly middle-age obsessions...combine agreeably in another intelligent thriller from [Harrison]....Plenty to like in Harrison's specialty mix of immensely engaging characters in immensely extreme situations..."
by Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly,
"The class act of the urban thriller....[A] vivid portrait of a once-prosperous lawyer at loose ends....Come on. Are you in the bookstore yet? (Grade: A)"
by Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist,
"[Harrison's] businessman-turned-desperado characters are never less than riveting....The complex plot, however, merely seems like the framework for Harrison's ultra-modern morality tale about the costs of self-preservation and the deep pressures of being human."
by Library Journal,
"Harrison's latest thriller pulls readers in from the gripping first chapter and keeps them thinking about his transformative misstep and consequential actions. Bill's character is so well developed that readers will feel his pain and dark despair."
by Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com,
"[Harrison] seems to be establishing himself as the Raymond Chandler of contemporary moneyed Manhattan....The Havana Room is compulsively, addictively readable, and it's clearly the most ambitious of Harrison's novels to date....If the unpacking of the various mysteries in The Havana Room is, perhaps inevitably, less interesting than Harrison's mesmerizing setup, you'll still devour it all the way....Harrison's grand, tantalizing literary ambitions may distract him from making The Havana Room an entirely successful thriller, but they also let us know that...he has his eyes on a bigger prize."
by Greg Stepanich, The Palm Beach Post,
"[A] deft piece of thriller-making....[The Havana Room is] rescued from full pulpdom by Harrison's strong plotting, deep characterizations and mellifluous writing."
by Charles Matthews, The San Jose Mercury News,
"The Havana Room doesn't have quite enough of the chewy sustenance we call literary, but it has all the snap and crunch you could want from a thriller."
by Nicholas Addison Thomas, BookPage.com,
"The Havana Room, a delicious mystery that will keep you guessing, is perhaps Harrison's most intriguing book yet....[A] gripping story about redemption and devotion that will have you rooting for the lonely underdog."
by Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post,
"Colin Harrison has created an urban underworld, yet in the end he grants redemption to at least one of his lost souls. The Havana Room is not The Great Gatsby, but it's a great read, an elegantly crafted thriller you won't want to put down."
by Men's Journal,
"As sharp and insidery as a Tom Wolfe opus, with the giddyup pacing of an airport-rack paperback."
by Vince Flynn, author of Executive Power,
"A gripping thriller by a master storyteller, tautly written, and ingeniously plotted. The Havana Room has the raw, scathing commentary of The Bonfire of the Vanities and the pacing of The Firm all rolled into one terrific read. This is Colin Harrison's best book yet."
In his gripping new thriller, Harrison tells the story of a man who falls from the heights of power and wealth in New York, and finds himself in a dangerous and potentially lethal state of affairs.
From the author of Afterburn, a major new thriller about a down-and-out lawyer who takes on a case that proves deadly.
From the author of Afterburn, a major new thriller about a down-and-out lawyer who takes on a case that proves deadly.
The Havana Room is the tale of a man who falls from the heights of power and wealth in New York, and finds himself in a dangerous and potentially lethal state of affairs.
Bill Wyeth is a successful real estate attorney in his late thirties with a wife and son, who, by the merest chance, loses everything: family, job, status. Unmoored and alone, Wyeth drifts toward the citys darker corners. Restoration seems unlikely, redemption impossible. Wyeth finds himself in an old-time Manhattan steakhouse and is intrigued by the manager, Allison Sparks—sexy, complicated, and independent in all ways. She also controls access to a private bar. This is the Havana Room, and what goes on in there, hes told, is secret. Wyeth agrees to help Alisons friend, Jay Rainey, in concluding a last-minute midnight real estate transaction. As soon as he sees the players and the paperwork, he knows something is wrong. Within hours, Wyeth finds himself tangled in Rainey's peculiar obsessions, which involve a Chilean businessman who feels he's been swindled, an old farmer frozen dead to a bulldozer, an outrageous black owner of a downtown hiphop club, and a fourteen-year-old English girl. Only Rainey knows the connections among these people, which are revealed when Wyeth is finally admitted to the Havana Room—where the survival of its inhabitants is most uncertain.
Bill Wyeth is a rising real estate attorney living the lofty heights of success. Then a tragic accident claims everything he has: his family, his fortune, his career. But this is Manhattan, and Bill has much further to fall. His downward spiral lands him at the table of Allison Sparks, the dangerously alluring owner of a midtown steakhouse. She needs a personal favor of him--to engineer a midnight trade-off in a shady multimillion-dollar real estate deal. For a man with nothing left to lose, the set-up is too lucrative to refuse, and like Allison, too forbidden to resist. But her favor draws him deeper into a web of sex, deception, and murder--and to a secret place at the back of her restaurant, the Havana Room, where a man might find both evil and redemption. The Havana Room is a great New York thriller from a modern master of the genre.
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