Sam's Reviews > Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard
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Sep 28, 11

Read in September, 2011

This is a cowboy/western book, set in historical Cuba in 1898. The protagonist, Ben Tyler, is taking horses as a cover for smuggling guns to Cuba, and arrives shortly after the sinking of the battleship Maine. He meets various bad guys (Guardia Civil) and a sugar mill plantation owner, along with American newspapermen (it is the time of yellow journalism coverage of Cuba), and the mistress, Amelia Brown, of the plantation owner. Tyler quickly ends up in prison for killing someone, is rescued with the aid of Amelia, and then they are off to make their fortune in the rough-and-tumble, deadly war time effort with Cuban insurgents and Spanish soldiers and Americans soldiers all fighting each other.

Ben Tyler is good with guns, killing, and horses, but also a former unsuccessful bank robber and overall rather dim-witted. Amelia Brown is more intelligent, but nonetheless falls in love with Tyler; she is primarily an opportunist interested in fame, excitement, and money. The Spanish plantation owner is an interesting character, but the Cuban characters are poorly developed, even though they play major roles in the book. As it turns out, all the main characters in the book are motivated primarily by money, not by idealism or patriotism.

The reading is pleasant enough. The plot starts off nicely, but definitely languishes after the initial third of the book. The character development is adequate but not great. One of the major pluses is the historical aspects. Many real places, people, and events show up. Even some of the small details are historical too, such as the boat "Vamoose", which was a real filibuster smuggling boat used to smuggle weapons into Cuba at that time.
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