Harbor of Spies: A Novel of Historic Havana

CanadianCanuck

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Nov 21, 2014
Recently, I was able to finish a book I'd purchased a year back but thanks to changing interests and other projects, did not get around to reading until this July. The book is one set in the Civil War era, but has next to nothing to do with the battles in Virginia, along the Mississippi, or even intrigues on the continent. Instead, we come to the year 1863 with the rebellion in full swing, and the Union blockade slowly strangling the Confederacy. Here we go to one of the principal ports where blockade runners gather to run the noose of Union ships around Southern ports. That harbor, is Havana. The capital of the Spanish colony of Cuba, it was a heavily fortified citadel of Spain's colonial empire and one which had a slave society just as - if not more - brutal than that found in the South.

The story tells, in microcosm, the tale of someone who becomes a blockade runner. Travelling to Havana on regular business, Everett Townsend is pulled into a dangerous plot involving murder, slavery, and the sale of goods to the Confederacy. While a border state man, he is divided in his loyalties because his brother died fighting for the South while he was enrolled in the Union naval academy at Annapolis. Twisted by grief, and expelled for assaulting a fellow naval cadet who questioned his loyalty, he travels to the land of his mothers birth almost by chance. There he has secrets to uncover, and a fascinating story to tell!

Welcome to Harbor of Spies, by Robin Lloyd.

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I quite enjoyed this story because it takes place in a country I’ve visited and come to love (Cuba) and it does regal the reader with historic details of the island under Spanish rule. From the fabulous culture to the horrors of slavery, the author paints a vivid picture of the island in the 1860s. The city of Havana especially is given a lot of love to show off both the slums of poor workers, sailors, and slaves, but also the opulent wealth of the Spanish Empire and the islands slaver aristocracy. The society comes alive and we see a very fascinating, and disturbing one.

It is though, a story with many nautical themes, and as such it does not disappoint! The running of the blockade is explored in fascinating detail. I admit I was quite surprised at the depth of knowledge and research the author put into getting the small pictures of blockade running right. The nautical runs into Southern ports and out again to Cuba was breathtaking and had me on the edge of my seat as I tried to not sweat bullets like the sailors on the little blockade runner here. It gave me an appreciation for the historical bravery of men who ran the Union blockade of the South whether for ideological reasons or profit!

Exploring the Civil War through foreign settings is something I think anyone interested in the war ought to take pleasure in seeing. I've read other books in a similar vein, and I have a longer review of this book for those interested. Overall, I think the author managed to tell an engaging story of one man on a very strategic island in 1863. I won't spoil many details, and the nautical themes may go over the head of anyone not very experienced with the terms (I know I had to look many up!) but nothing is ever too dense to pull you out of the yarn being spun. Civil War fiction buffs should be intrigued indeed!
 
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