***Note: I read the unabridged audiobook version of Havana Nocturne, which was narrated by Mel Foster. It is available to order wherever audiobooks are sold.***
The post-Prohibition years brought the United States Mob a lot of unwanted governmental scrutiny. Gone were the days where they could do pretty much whatever they liked and get away with it. Gone was the unchecked commercialization of vice and sin that filled the Mob’s coffers and lined the pockets of more than a few corrupt politicians. No, the Mob knew that if it was to remain a dominant force, a new playground would need to be found. Luckily for the Mob, Havana was ripe for the picking.
Truth be told, the convergence of circumstances couldn’t have been more perfect. While the Mob could no longer count on a complacent government to turn a blind eye at home, Cuba in the 1950s was suffering under the brutal and repressive regime of Fulgencio Batista, a cruel and avaricious tyrant if ever one drew breath. Meyer Lansky, one of the most infamous gangsters of that era, got himself, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and their compatriots in good with Batista and started building casinos, hotels, and other entertainment venues in Havana. As long as Batista received his cut, the Mob was free to turn Havana into a kind of alternative Eden, a place where any sort of illicit fun could be had—for the right price, of course.
What Lansky, Luciano, and Batista failed to realize is that there were other players at the table with agendas of their own. Fidel Castro and his 26th of July Movement was determined to overthrow Batista’s regime and usher in a new era for Cuba, one based on Marxist-Leninist principles as well as egalitarianism.
From 1956 to 1958, Castro and his fellow revolutionaries staged their uprising and engaged in guerrilla warfare on both urban and rural fronts, all culminating in the Battle of Santa Clara on January 1st, 1959. Led by Che Guevara, the battle was a decisive victory for the rebels as it led to Batista’s departure to the Dominican Republic (ruled at that time by former ally Rafael Trujillo) and allowed Castro to seize power. The Mob’s playground had new kids on the swings. The rest as they say is history.
T.J. English’s book is impeccably researched and expertly told, making the narrative equally compelling for those familiar with the story as well as those who are reading about it for the first time. Havana Nocturne is not to be missed.
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