The Havana Room

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Bill Wyeth is a prosperous New York real estate attorney with an eight-room apartment, a pretty wife, and young son when, through an innocent mistake, he causes the death of a wealthy man’s child. Wyeth soon finds himself unemployed, divorced, and friendless. With time on his hands, Wyeth becomes a regular customer at an old-fashioned Manhattan steakhouse, developing an interest in the manager, Allison Sparks, and in the restaurant’s mysterious invitation-only Havana Room.

Late one night Allison asks Wyeth to represent her boyfriend Jay Rainey in a real estate sale; Rainey is trading property on Long Island for a nondescript Manhattan office building. Wyeth ushers Rainey through the deal to please Allison, then agrees to help Rainey with a mysterious problem on the Long Island property—which technically Rainey no longer owns. By morning Wyeth and Rainey have broken several laws, Rainey has disappeared, and Wyeth is hustling to avoid the police and an assortment of criminal elements. To save his own life, Wyeth must find Rainey and discover the secret behind the real estate deal.

The Havana Room offers an uneasy mix of hard-boiled mystery, heartrending domestic tragedy, and literary digression. Rainey is apparently intended as a tragic hero, but engenders little sympathy, not least because he remains missing through most of the novel. Wyeth’s personal tragedy loses emotional impact as he adjusts fairly easily to life alone. Finally, the secret of the titular Havana Room is disappointingly tame when finally revealed and a mere footnote to the plot.