In Harbor of Spies, the protagonist, Everett Townsend is forced to work for a profiteering Spanish merchant who introduces him to a world of spies, blockade runners, and slave traders. As a foreigner and an outsider in Cuba, he struggles to maintain his own sense of identity. As he grapples with the uncertain moral terrain he finds in Havana, Townsend becomes ever more involved with the mystery surrounding the murder. Even at sea, where his ship-handling skills are put to the ultimate test against the Navy’s powerful gunships, he finds he is unable to avoid reminders about the unsolved murder of a top English diplomat.
From the bars, to the docks, to the dance halls, Townsend’s path moves from colonial Havana to the slave plantations in the interior. There amid the harsh cruelty he discovers in the Cuban countryside, he unexpectedly begins to unravel a family mystery. Together with the daughter of an American innkeeper in Havana he confronts the veiled, dangerous forces he finds on the island.
The novel is a richly drawn portrait of Spanish colonial Havana at a time when the city was flush with sugar wealth and filled with signs of the American Civil War. It is a realistic look at Cuba’s role in the war, and the importance of the scores of blockade running ships- both sail and steam- that ran the gauntlet of the Union blockade from Havana into the Gulf of Mexico.
“As a former Latin American correspondent for NBC News, I knew Havana fairly well. I had traveled to Cuba on assignment on many occasions in the 1980’s and early 90’s to report on political developments there. I had gone to many parts of the island, usually under the watchful eye of government agents, but occasionally I could slip away unnoticed from the government minders. As a result, I got to know some of the historic areas of Old Havana relatively well. But all these years later as I did my research for this book, I quickly realized my familiarity with contemporary Havana was not going to help me too much. Today’s Havana is a far cry from the city as it was in the 19th century.”
© 2017 Robin Lloyd
Scroll through images of 19th century Havana
View of Havana Bay in the mid 19th century.
Birdseye view of Havana Bay and Old Havana.
Cuba's volanta carriage was unique to the island.
A medieval-style wall surrounded the old city of Havana until 1863.
In the mid 19th century, Christopher Columbus's remains were still buried inside Havana's old cathedral.
In Havana milk was delivered from house to house right from the cow.
The boulevard of Isabel II just outside the walls of Old Havana was the center of social activity for the fashionable.
In the mid 19th century, Cuba was already famed worldwide for its cigars and its tobacco.
Havana's harbor was heavily fortified.
In the steamship era, Havana was a major recoaling port.
In Cuba in the mid 19th century, the mingling of the races was a complex issue.
During the New Year's period, Cuban slaves were allowed to perform African ritual dancing in the city streets.
At sunset, the finer classes in Havana's society would parade on a wide boulevard, dressed formally with their top hats and canes.
Havana's streets were filled with vendors of all kinds.
In the mid 19th century, the black population - both free and slave - already outnumbered the whites.
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