Reviewed by Jim Napier
Canadian bureaucrat Charlie Hillier has had better evenings. Attending a diplomatic function in Ottawa's tony neighbourhood of Rockcliffe Park he finds himself among a group of guests who are being treated to a tour of the residence when their guide opens a door and encounters a couple half-naked and clearly in the throes of passion. His embarrassment only grows when the woman in question singles Charlie out of the crowd and orders him to "close the goddamned door."
Charlie is understandably piqued, as the woman is his wife, Sharon.
Fast forward a few weeks, we find Charlie Hillier trying to pick up the pieces of his life. Sharon has informed him that their fifteen-year marriage is over, and this is followed by a settlement agreement from her lawyer that deprives him of whatever small vestige of manhood he had retained. Unwilling to be the butt of water-cooler jokes in his job in Foreign Affairs, Charlie applies for a posting abroad. The luck of the draw finds him heading to a three-year posting in Cuba. It is definitely not his first choice as he has only six weeks of Spanish and no great enthusiasm for the lack of creature comforts in Havana. But it was Cuba or an obscure post in central Africa, and suddenly Havana didn’t look half bad. The privations of his new posting will turn out to be the least of his problems.
As Charlie begins settling into his new post in Havana as the new Management Consular Officer at the Canadian Embassy, things start to look up. By the luck of the draw he has been billeted in a sumptuous villa with its own swimming pool, and to his surprise, his new job handling the ambassador's assignments gives him satisfaction and growing confidence.
But "Foreign Affairs" turns out to have new meanings for the neophyte diplomat as he encounters a ravishing consular officer at the Indian embassy who suddenly disappears, two ladies of the night looking for the former resident of Charlie’s villa, and some ominous-looking thugs who seem to have a special interest in drugs. When the bodies begin piling up Charlie experiences the many nuances of culture shock, and before long his concern shifts from How do I do this job? To How do I survive this job?
Escape to Havana is immensely readable and great fun. Author Nick Wilkshire has a genuine flair for capturing the atmosphere of his settings, and portraying the nuanced relationships in the diplomatic world. He has woven a fast-paced, entertaining, and cautionary tale about the glamorous life of the diplomatic set, peopled with believable toughs and an engaging protagonist, and set against the colourful backdrop of a nation struggling to transform itself but saddled with old ways that will not go quietly into the night. A book that should be required reading for aspiring members of the consular corps, Escape to Havana is the first of a promising series.
Escape to Havana is published by Dundurn.
Jim Napier is a professional crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites, and his own crime novel, Legacy, was published in April of 2017. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org