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Before Grand Master Elmore Leonard earned his well-deserved reputation as “the best writer of crime fiction alive” (Newsweek), he penned some of the finest western fiction to ever appear in print. (The classics Hombre, Valdez is Coming, and 3:10 to Yuma were just a few of his notable works.) With his extraordinary Cuba Libre, Leonard ingeniously combines all of his many ta Before Grand Master Elmore Leonard earned his well-deserved reputation as “the best writer of crime fiction alive” (Newsweek), he penned some of the finest western fiction to ever appear in print. (The classics Hombre, Valdez is Coming, and 3:10 to Yuma were just a few of his notable works.) With his extraordinary Cuba Libre, Leonard ingeniously combines all of his many talents and delivers a historical adventure/caper/western/noir like none other. The creator of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, star of Raylan, Pronto, Riding the Rap, and TV’s Justified, spins a gloriously exciting yarn about an American horse wrangler who escapes a date with a Cuban firing squad to join forces with a powerful sugar baron’s lady looking to make waves and score big in and around Spanish-American War-torn Havana in 1898. Everything you love about Leonard’s fiction—and more—is evident in Cuba Libre.


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Before Grand Master Elmore Leonard earned his well-deserved reputation as “the best writer of crime fiction alive” (Newsweek), he penned some of the finest western fiction to ever appear in print. (The classics Hombre, Valdez is Coming, and 3:10 to Yuma were just a few of his notable works.) With his extraordinary Cuba Libre, Leonard ingeniously combines all of his many ta Before Grand Master Elmore Leonard earned his well-deserved reputation as “the best writer of crime fiction alive” (Newsweek), he penned some of the finest western fiction to ever appear in print. (The classics Hombre, Valdez is Coming, and 3:10 to Yuma were just a few of his notable works.) With his extraordinary Cuba Libre, Leonard ingeniously combines all of his many talents and delivers a historical adventure/caper/western/noir like none other. The creator of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, star of Raylan, Pronto, Riding the Rap, and TV’s Justified, spins a gloriously exciting yarn about an American horse wrangler who escapes a date with a Cuban firing squad to join forces with a powerful sugar baron’s lady looking to make waves and score big in and around Spanish-American War-torn Havana in 1898. Everything you love about Leonard’s fiction—and more—is evident in Cuba Libre.

30 review for Cuba Libre

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”Tyler arrived with the horses February eighteenth, three days after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. He saw buzzards floating in the sky the way they do but couldn’t make out what they were after. This was off Morro Castle, the cattle boat streaming black smoke as it came through the narrows.” There are better times in history to visit Cuba than in 1898. The U.S. battleship Maine is nothing, but a pile of wreckage in the harbor. The Spanish are wondering how America will respon ”Tyler arrived with the horses February eighteenth, three days after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. He saw buzzards floating in the sky the way they do but couldn’t make out what they were after. This was off Morro Castle, the cattle boat streaming black smoke as it came through the narrows.” There are better times in history to visit Cuba than in 1898. The U.S. battleship Maine is nothing, but a pile of wreckage in the harbor. The Spanish are wondering how America will respond. Will they declare war? Will they invade? The insurrectos are becoming more bold and more aggressive. Even the whores have chosen a side and are working for what the revolutionaries need most. ”’The Whores in Havana,’ Fuentes said to Tyler, ‘won’t take money from the common Spanish soldier, the soldado raso, who’s paid next to nothing. What they do, they charge one hundred Mauser cartridges to go to bed with them, which to the soldier is like getting it for nothing. Fuentes said the whores gave the cartridges to the insurrectos and this was one of the ways they got bullets for their Mausers, the rifles they took from Spanish soldiers they killed.’” Cuba is a time bomb, and the clock is ticking down to zero. These uncertain times may not be the best time for Ben Tyler from Sweetmary, Arizona, to be bringing in a string of horses, but then horses aren’t worth a plugged nickel in the states. In Cuba, a country on the verge of war, horses are bringing a premium price. Roland Boudreaux says he wants them for Polo ponies, but then again, a guy like Boudreaux might have all kinds of plans for those horses. He is rich, and his loyalty might be to Spain or it might be to whoever might best represent his interests. He has a gorgeous 20 year old American mistress who has uncertain loyalties as well and is as volatile as nitroglycerine. Ben Tyler sees her, and Amelia Brown sees him. Something sparks that gold can’t buy. Charlie Burke is Tyler’s old friend from the states who set this deal up. Of course, the horses are not where the big money is; that resides under the floorboards of the transportation boat. He brought in Tyler because he wanted someone who had ”et the cake.” Boudreaux is getting wishy washy on paying what he owes for the horses. He looks at Tyler and sees nothing, but a flat broke cowboy. What he can’t see is that Tyler is full of sand from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. If you don’t pay him, he’ll find a way to make you pay him. Just ask the mining company of Hatch and Hodges. When they refuse to pay him, he walks into a branch of the Maricopa Bank and kindly asks the teller to withdraw $900 from the Hatch and Hodges account. Tyler is nice about it, but the reason he gets the money is because of the .44 Smith and Wesson Russian pistol he sticks in the teller’s face. Robbing banks seems like an easy way to make money. He ends up in Yuma prison which is no picnic, but little does he know that in Cuba he is mere hours away from ending up in Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro. Most men who go in there never come back out, and those that do are just a mere shadow of their former selves. There are no rules. There are no rights. So how does a guy like Ben Tyler end up in Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro? Well, he has an altercation. There are those men who walk through life, usually for a very short while, who are intentionally thin skinned and are just hoping that someone insults them so they can make something of it. This Spanish officer, who fits that description...makes something... with the wrong guy. He ends up with a third eye between the other two, and Ben Tyler ends up at the mercy of unscrupulous men. Amelia Brown’s knees are made of water, and her stomach has been doing little flip flops ever since she first caught sight of Ben Tyler. She may not have had a good idea of what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, but now she knows who she wants to do it with. She concocts a plan to get him out of this impregnable prison and help the insurrection at the same time. It almost goes well. Elmore Leonard is a master of dialogue. He doesn’t overwrite it. He leaves a lot unsaid, but those pauses between exchanges are FAT with meaning. This technique lends an authenticity to his writing. He is one of those writers who defies genre categorization. When I was in the book business, Elmore Leonard was a writer whom many professors, professionals, and elitist readers called their guilty pleasure. Leonard routinely made the bestseller list; Hollywood mined his work for films, and yet no one dared call him a sell out. I was fortunate enough to meet him one time. He was quiet, completely self-possessed, and could have easily been a sidekick for a main character in one of his own stories. He was a quick and assured writer with a head full of stories that spilled out of his pen like oil from an Oklahoma well. This was his last Western and the only one he’d written since 1970. His success at writing hardboiled novels took him away from writing Westerns, but I’m sure there were twenty or thirty stories of the West percolating in his head if he ever needed to write them. He found an even bigger audience late in his career with the TV show Justified, where the main character, Raylan Givens, is a man who could have walked out of a Western novel set during the 1860s instead of the modern era. Certainly Givens’s code is of a man from another time and place. Wrong is just wrong, and right has to be made right. I used to read Leonard’s books just for enjoyment, an escape from my boring life, but now when I read his books, I really appreciate what he does. The structure, the crisp dialogue, the way his characters, even some of his villains, stood for something. That Leonard code that may have come to life in his early Westerns continues to surface in all of his work, clear up until his final novel. Good men are bad, and bad men are good. Leonard spent a lifetime blurring the lines of our own assumptions about people and revealing the flaws that make us human. Sometimes those flaws prove to be worth more than our virtues. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 4 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    One of the better offerings from Elmore Leonard : this one is both western and heist, with a lot of historical references about the American intervention in Cuba after the explosion of the Maine in the port of Havana. I know it is a recently published book, but I kept seeing Jimmy Stewart and Lauren Bacall as the main protagonists as I read through the novel. Good cast of secondary characters, and a feeling of inevitability about the progression of the plot: every move apparently unavoidable, fo One of the better offerings from Elmore Leonard : this one is both western and heist, with a lot of historical references about the American intervention in Cuba after the explosion of the Maine in the port of Havana. I know it is a recently published book, but I kept seeing Jimmy Stewart and Lauren Bacall as the main protagonists as I read through the novel. Good cast of secondary characters, and a feeling of inevitability about the progression of the plot: every move apparently unavoidable, forced from the first moment Tyler got involved in the Cuban adventure. I liked the way Leonard managed to convey the silences and the things left unspoken in conversations - natural dialogues are one of his reliable trademarks.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joe Valdez

    Cuba Libre was published in 1998 and I'd like to believe that Elmore Leonard changed course from his contemporary crime novels to refute any allegations that he was turning out the same book over and over again. But judging from the grin on my face while reading Leonard's 34th novel, he probably just wanted to have a good time writing a cowboy story, returning to territory he hadn't explored since Valdez Is Coming in 1970. The book is a hell of a soirée, nicely researched and slowly revealing ch Cuba Libre was published in 1998 and I'd like to believe that Elmore Leonard changed course from his contemporary crime novels to refute any allegations that he was turning out the same book over and over again. But judging from the grin on my face while reading Leonard's 34th novel, he probably just wanted to have a good time writing a cowboy story, returning to territory he hadn't explored since Valdez Is Coming in 1970. The book is a hell of a soirée, nicely researched and slowly revealing characters and motifs that will be familiar to the author's fans, albeit in an exotic locale. The opening paragraph is: Tyler arrived with the horses February eighteenth, three days after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. He saw buzzards floating in the sky the way they do but couldn't make out what they were after. This was off Morro Castle, the cattle boat streaming black smoke as it came through the narrows. Tyler is Ben Tyler, our cowboy. He appears in Sweetwater in the Arizona Territory with an offer from his old friend who is: Charlie Burke, foreman of the Circle-Eye at the time, as many as thirty riders under him spring through the fall, put the boy to work chasing mustangs and company stock that had quit the bunch, and watched this kid gentle the green ones with a patience you didn't find in most hands. Watched him trail-boss herds they brought down in Old Mexico and drove to graze. Watched him quit the big spread after seven years to work for a mustanger named Dana Moon, supplying horses to mine companies and stage lines and remounts to the U.S. cavalry. Tyler took to extreme measures to collect nine hundred dollars a mining company owed him, finally withdrawing the money from Maricopa Bank with a .44. He resorted to the same tactic to collect another debt and with all that experience robbing banks under his belt, kept going, until his capture and internment to Yuma Prison. Freed after three years, Tyler discovers a new problem which is: "You don't ever want to win fame as an outlaw," Tyler said, "unless everybody knows you've done your time. There're people who save wanted dodgers and keep an eye out. They see me riding up the street and think, Why, there's five hundred dollars going by. Next thing I know, I'm trying to explain the situation to these men holding Winchesters on me. I've been shot at twice out on the graze, long range. Another time I'm in a line shack, a fella rode right into my camp and pulled on me." "You shot him?" "I had to. Now I got his relatives looking for me. It's the kind of thing that never ends." "Well," Charlie Burke said, "you should never've robbed those banks." Tyler said, "Thanks for telling me." Charlie Burke convinces Tyler to come in with him on a deal in Cuba with a buyer who needs polo horses. When he was nine, Tyler spent a summer in Cuba on a sugar plantation operated by his father. The brutal Spanish aristocracy, the dons, are at war with the native insurrectos and have provided Charlie Burke a market for horses the rebels either run off or kill. Tyler does the math on their expenses and figures out that Charlie Burke is also doing business with the rebels smuggling guns. The old man wants a partner who knows Cuba and has the nerve to operate on the opposite side of the law. Leonard sails the reader into Cuba for the weeks leading up to and following the Spanish American War in 1898. In Havana, Tyler and Charlie Burke meet a Cuban horse trader named Victor Fuentes serving as middleman on the deal between the cowboys and their buyer, an unscrupulous American businessman named Roland Boudreaux, who owns a sugar estate, among other assets. These include Amelia Brown, his canny twenty-year-old American mistress, one of the few people who does as she pleases and says what she pleases around Boudreaux. Upon meeting Tyler, she tells the cowboy that she likes his hat, not flirting, but looking him over. Lionel Tavalera is an officer in the Guardia Civil who hunts insurrectos and--as war against the United States edges forward--American spies. Defending himself against a dandy cavalry officer he offends, Tyler is thrown into the infamous Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro. Tavalera suspects the cowboy of running guns and keeps him in the medieval prison until he can have Tyler shot. Amelia, who's been supplying information to Victor Fuentes on behalf of the insurrectos, devises a scheme to have herself "kidnapped" by rebels and to aid them by ransoming herself to Boudreaux for forty thousand dollars. To pull this off, Amelia and Fuentes break Tyler out of Morro, slaughtering eight of Tavalera's men. The officer determines the kidnapping is a hoax and as the Americans come ashore, considers those forty thousand dollars to be his spoils of war. To locate Tyler and Amelia and the loot, Tavalera employs his mistress's sadistic brother Osma, a runaway slave tracker. As for Tyler and Amelia, they fall in love while at large and plot to take the ransom for themselves. In other words, vintage Elmore Leonard wrapped in colorful new packaging. What makes this a fun novel as opposed to a great one is that a lot of stuff seems to happen to the main character rather than the main character making stuff happen. I can't help but think the outcome of the story would've been exactly the same had Ben Tyler never come to Cuba. His relationship with Amelia is pretty much dictated by hormones, which is believable, but not very compelling. I didn't find them a attractive couple, like Wayne & Carmen Colson in Killshot. The mark of a great literary couple is when I start imagining all the great sex they're having between chapters, because the author is too polite to intrude and report back. I never felt my mind wandering there in this book. Like a lot of westerns, Cuba Libre is straightforward; the good guys and the bad guys are exactly who they appear to be. There's a train robbery, a prison break, a saloon duel, several shootouts and a showdown and all of them turn out exactly like I expected. I could have done with less action and more interplay between the parties as they scramble for the ransom money. Surprises weren't in high order, but what I enjoyed were a train robbery, a prison break, a saloon duel, several shootouts and a showdown being executed with the brevity and panache of an author who loves this milieu and had it researched clearly. Here's my list of Elmore Leonard novels ranked from favorite to least favorite: 1. Stick (1983) 2. Killshot (1989) 3. Cuba Libre (1998) 4. Pronto (1993) 5. Be Cool (1999) 6. Get Shorty (1990) 7. LaBrava (1983)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Villines

    It has taken five books learn how devious Leonard can be in telling his stories. I once thought of Leonard as a solid character writer. Every character that he has brought to life has provided hours of entertainment through their unique characteristics. He has never failed to tell a good story. But I also enjoy books with more than just a good story. I like books that reach out from the page, as Graham Greene often does, with insights to think about and consider: “The truth has never been of any r It has taken five books learn how devious Leonard can be in telling his stories. I once thought of Leonard as a solid character writer. Every character that he has brought to life has provided hours of entertainment through their unique characteristics. He has never failed to tell a good story. But I also enjoy books with more than just a good story. I like books that reach out from the page, as Graham Greene often does, with insights to think about and consider: “The truth has never been of any real value to any human being - it is a symbol for the mathematicians and philosophers to pursue. In human relations kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths” -GG This time, while reading Cuba Libre, I realized that Leonard does the same thing, but he is not as overt. If Leonard wants to convey such insight, he does so. But he does it through his characters, through their actions and dialogue without the need to pause for such commentary. It is this implicit, character-based insight that I found so intriguing in this, my fifth Leonard book. And it is this implicit approach that keeps the characters out in front of the story, where the action is taking place, without a need to pause as Green is known to do. Cuba Libre itself is a unique adventure. Leonard takes time, place and (of course) characters and throws them all together. Each character has a kindness about them that is contrasted with a dark past. Towards the end, each of the characters was capable and suspect of doing the very opposite of their eventual acts. Thus, a mystery was formed, not by withholding some crucial piece of information, but through the depiction of human nature all on its own. In the end, hate, love, forgiveness, and greed swirl around within every character such that anything is possible.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Oh boy. This is a big favorite in a big way. I didn’t even know what I was getting into here and as it dawned on me, those first few chapters, giddy is the word to describe it.* The Spanish-American War. The USS Maine. The hotbed of Cuba in the history according to Elmore Leonard, which means: well, hell yes, gunrunners and cowboys and a prison break and a train heist and warlords and yellow fever and a pretty kick-ass love story. Wrapped up in so much historical accuracy I read a book’s worth o Oh boy. This is a big favorite in a big way. I didn’t even know what I was getting into here and as it dawned on me, those first few chapters, giddy is the word to describe it.* The Spanish-American War. The USS Maine. The hotbed of Cuba in the history according to Elmore Leonard, which means: well, hell yes, gunrunners and cowboys and a prison break and a train heist and warlords and yellow fever and a pretty kick-ass love story. Wrapped up in so much historical accuracy I read a book’s worth of history on the side and learned more about the Cuban revolution than I ever knew from school. But mostly, this is Elmore Leonard. So we’re running and gunning but he’s showing every side, and everybody here is a schemer, and everybody here is just human, wonderfully so, relievedly so, not particularly noble or evil or honorable or vile but right and wrong in big and small ways regardless. (Well, the Guardias are basically glorified target practice, but in light of events, rightly so.) The stories weave and tangle and twist and turn, and all of them are just my kind of story. Could it be any more my kind of story? Well, yes. But it would have to change its plot and name to The Moonshine War. *Virgil Webster! Novis Crowe! Ahem. I had to get that out of my system. Of course Virgil (as in, father to Carl, great-grandfather to Ben) is the kid Marine thrown clear of the Maine as she blew. Of course it’s a Crowe from Lake Okeechobee by way of “Newerleans” on the payroll as muscle during the Cuban revolution. Of course. I’d like all my history books adapted thusly, please.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bookteafull (Danny)

    Guys. This book has set a new personal record for me. Within 16 seconds of listening to this audio on libby (i shit you not), I thought to myself: I'm not gunna give a fuck about this book. And guess what? I have no idea what compelled this author to write a book centered in Cuba with two American protagonists, one of which is a cowboy and a criminal. Like??? Waste of my fucking time but I did it. I am officially one book away from completing my 2019 reading goal of reading six books about Cubans a Guys. This book has set a new personal record for me. Within 16 seconds of listening to this audio on libby (i shit you not), I thought to myself: I'm not gunna give a fuck about this book. And guess what? I have no idea what compelled this author to write a book centered in Cuba with two American protagonists, one of which is a cowboy and a criminal. Like??? Waste of my fucking time but I did it. I am officially one book away from completing my 2019 reading goal of reading six books about Cubans and/or Cuba. Last year, I read so many books about my people that were well done, inspirational, nostalgic, and overall thought evoking on several accounts. But this year I can't seem to read one deserving of a higher rating than a reluctant three. ughhhhh, que mierda. Anyways - reasons why I disliked this book: - Instalove - Uninteresting, one-dimensional characters - Book was longer than it needed to be, by, like, the 16th second apparently lol - Machismo themes *rolls eyes* - Started off boring and somehow managed to get worse halfway through Torturous Half-Ass Synopsis: This novel revolves around Ben Tyler, a criminal, who gets hired to smuggle 30 horses to a wealthy American sugar planter in Cuba (because, sure, we'll have a book centered in Cuba and not have any of the main characters or plot lines centered on Cubans - why not? -.-) Anyways, some drama happens and turns out they're actually smuggling guns hidden on the boat carrying the horses (does this all sound dumb and lame? because it should). Historical components are intertwined with the story line, such as the coming war between America and Spain and the gun fights apparent during the build-up to the revolutionary wars. This all indicates that the narrative takes place around 1890s (closer to 1898). ^^ It took all of my brain power to retain that much information and not just automatically delete this entire narrative from my existence. The moment I finished this book, I had to crawl into bed and nap for a solid two hours in order to recuperate from the migraine Leonard gave me. Never reading a book by this author again cuz aint nobody got time for that.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Like his book "The Hot Kid" from 2005, Elmore Leonard's earlier "Cubra Libre" is an entertaining crime novel set in a bygone era. In this case, the time period is the days leading up to and during the Spanish-American War, with the crimes involving smuggling guns to Cuba and absconding with ransom money. As he did in "The Hot Kid," Leonard in "Cubra Libre" offers up an interesting cast of characters, artfully juggles interrelated storylines, and demonstrates a keen ear for conversation. (There's Like his book "The Hot Kid" from 2005, Elmore Leonard's earlier "Cubra Libre" is an entertaining crime novel set in a bygone era. In this case, the time period is the days leading up to and during the Spanish-American War, with the crimes involving smuggling guns to Cuba and absconding with ransom money. As he did in "The Hot Kid," Leonard in "Cubra Libre" offers up an interesting cast of characters, artfully juggles interrelated storylines, and demonstrates a keen ear for conversation. (There's also another connection between the two books: Virgil Webster, the father of "The Hot Kid"'s hero, is a minor character in both.) "Cubra Libre"'s main weakness, as often seems to be the case in Leonard's novels, is his depiction of the lead female character. Leonard's women feel more like male fantasies -- amazingly attractive, sexually available, and breezily quick-witted in conversation -- than believable human beings. "Cuba Libre"'s Amelia Brown is no exception. Also, the romance between Amelia and Ben Tyler is as sappy and shallow as the one between Kelly Barr and Frank Delsa in Leonard's "Mr. Paradise" from 2004. "Cuba Libre" is still a far stronger book than "Mr. Paradise," though, and its flaws aren't overly distracting. It's an easy recommendation for Leonard fans, of course, but also for anyone who enjoys crime novels that offer readers something beyond propulsive plots.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    A well written historical novel, Cuba Libre describes the island's cities and towns with just enough information to make the reader want to see this country for themselves. I liked the love story involving the southern American cowboy Ben and the beautiful, rebellious Amelia. Though this is a work of fiction, it is very accurate in its details of the Spanish/American war of 1898. Interesting facts about the sinking of the battleship Maine which I have found on the internet and summarized: 9.40pm A well written historical novel, Cuba Libre describes the island's cities and towns with just enough information to make the reader want to see this country for themselves. I liked the love story involving the southern American cowboy Ben and the beautiful, rebellious Amelia. Though this is a work of fiction, it is very accurate in its details of the Spanish/American war of 1898. Interesting facts about the sinking of the battleship Maine which I have found on the internet and summarized: 9.40pm on the night of February 15th, 1898 the United States battleship Maine, at anchor in Havana harbour, was suddenly blown up, apparently by a mine, in an explosion which tore her bottom out and sank her, killing 260 officers and men on board. What caused the explosion or who was responsible has never been established but the consequence was the Spanish-American War of 1898. American sentiment was strongly behind Cuban independence. The New York Journal and the New York World, inflamed the situation with the exhortation to ‘Remember the Maine’, and by encouraging action. They were vigorously supported by hawkish senators and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt. In the end the government in Spain declared war on the United States on April 24th. The American Congress had already authorised the use of armed force and the United States formally declared war on April 25th. An American fleet under Commander Dewey annihilated a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1st. In June an American force landed east of the Cuban city of Santiago. On July 1st Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Rough Riders’ helped troopers of the 10th Cavalry take the San Juan Heights above the city of Santiago, which surrendered on the 17th. The Spanish Cuban fleet, which had meanwhile fled Santiago harbour, was hunted down by American battleships and destroyed in four hours. American troops took Puerto Rico a few days afterwards. When a peace treaty was signed in Paris in December, Spain lost its last colonies in the New World. The United States took the Philippines, Puerto Rico and the Pacific island of Guam, and achieved worldwide recognition as a great power. Cuba gained independence, Theodore Roosevelt earned a hero’s reputation.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    In the old days, Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard would be called a swashbuckler. Ben Tyler, our hero, is a cowboy gone South; in this case, as far south as Cuba. He also has a history of justifiable bank robbery, if there is such a thing. So, in a way, this novel is a western. Ben finds himself shipping horses to Cuba. But unknown to him, under the deck is more than straw and horse droppings. This is an operation smuggling guns to Cuban rebels who have been fighting an endless guerrilla war against In the old days, Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard would be called a swashbuckler. Ben Tyler, our hero, is a cowboy gone South; in this case, as far south as Cuba. He also has a history of justifiable bank robbery, if there is such a thing. So, in a way, this novel is a western. Ben finds himself shipping horses to Cuba. But unknown to him, under the deck is more than straw and horse droppings. This is an operation smuggling guns to Cuban rebels who have been fighting an endless guerrilla war against the Spanish Don. This is 1895, the year the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. The Americans blamed the Spanish colonizers for the explosion and Teddy Roosevelt came in to charge up San Juan Hill. In Cuba Ben meets and falls in love with the lovely Amelia, daughter of a well-to-do New Orleans family. So this is a romance novel too. Amelia's search for adventure has led her to Cuba where she has become the mistress of Boudreaux, a wealthy American sugar plantation baron. (Shocking, and this in the 1890's!) The dirt-poor Cuban plantation workers are fighting the barons too. And whose side is Boudreaux on anyway, since the Spanish protect the planters' interests? Amelia becomes a spy for the rebels and hooks up with Ben to stage her own kidnapping to get money for the rebel cause. Against all this adventure as backdrop, Elmore has given us a well-researched historical novel. We get a lot of rich details about the sinking of the Maine, the "yellow journalists" who populate Havana's bars sniffing out stories of corruption and cruelty among the Spanish colonizers, and battle details of this particular "Splendid Little War."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I became intrigued with reading Elmore Leonard's books after watching the first season of "Justified", especially his interview in one of the bonus features. This is the first book I have read. It has a very interesting style, almost a shorthand that allows you to fill the gaps in the narrative. This story begins with 2 American cowboys contracted to deliver a shipment of horses (and some other stuff), who arrive in Cuba 3 days after the Maine is blown up in Havana's harbor. It's filled with a m I became intrigued with reading Elmore Leonard's books after watching the first season of "Justified", especially his interview in one of the bonus features. This is the first book I have read. It has a very interesting style, almost a shorthand that allows you to fill the gaps in the narrative. This story begins with 2 American cowboys contracted to deliver a shipment of horses (and some other stuff), who arrive in Cuba 3 days after the Maine is blown up in Havana's harbor. It's filled with a multitude of disreputable characters who each seem to have their own code of honor. Leonard switches the attention from one character to the next making sharp plot twists. My overall impression is of a mostly corrupt society made complaisant by colonialism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    I like Elmore Leonard, but this was pretty horrendous. Writing a historical novel doesn't mean having your characters spout paragraphs of exposition to show off all the research you've done about yellow journalism, slavery, etc. Leonard's characters are so much more effective when they're speaking softly and carrying big sticks.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Mclaren

    Let me begin by saying I like Elmore Leonard whether it is in book form for the movies that I have seen. I get his humor, as dark as it can be at times, so its easy to say that I liked this book about a cowboy who is talked into gathering horses to sell in Cuba. He partners with an old friend, who uses the horses (which frankly, don't make anything for them) as cover for gun running. Add into that story is the sinking of the USS Maine and the battle between the "insurrection" and the Guardias an Let me begin by saying I like Elmore Leonard whether it is in book form for the movies that I have seen. I get his humor, as dark as it can be at times, so its easy to say that I liked this book about a cowboy who is talked into gathering horses to sell in Cuba. He partners with an old friend, who uses the horses (which frankly, don't make anything for them) as cover for gun running. Add into that story is the sinking of the USS Maine and the battle between the "insurrection" and the Guardias and the big landowners. And as icing on the cake, a beautiful young woman who visits the island and become the mistress to one of the landowners. What you have is a darkly humorous, action-packed adventure yarn that sizzles with revenge, love and sometimes even honor as all the parties come together in 1898 as the Americans come on shore to show who is top dog in the Americas. This may not be for everyone but as I say, I like Leonard's humor and the touch of history running through the tale.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    A "dime novel" from 1860 would cost about $4 today when factoring in inflation, and that's about as much as I paid for this book used. It's about right, all around. This is a quick read, something of a toss-off. It's very standard Leonard -- some of his familiar character-types (the wise old criminal; the dangerous but essentially good guy; the not totally trustworthy lady love interest; the rich but only moderately bad guy) interacting in a series of crosses and double-crosses, set in Cuba arou A "dime novel" from 1860 would cost about $4 today when factoring in inflation, and that's about as much as I paid for this book used. It's about right, all around. This is a quick read, something of a toss-off. It's very standard Leonard -- some of his familiar character-types (the wise old criminal; the dangerous but essentially good guy; the not totally trustworthy lady love interest; the rich but only moderately bad guy) interacting in a series of crosses and double-crosses, set in Cuba around the beginning of the Spanish-American War. A deep historical novel, this ain't. A gripping yarn, well, not exactly. A $4 book to read while trying to figure out what your next "real" book to tackle will be -- maybe that's all it is. It's Leonard, so the dialogue is mostly good, the story is OK (it is a little stock if you are Leonard fan), but there isn't a whole lot to it other than that. Definitely not in the same bracket as "Get Shorty" and other really sparkling Leonard classics.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    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 wit 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rosina Lippi

    Leonard is the master of many things, but the two that shine here above all others: dialogue, and men with ethics who end up on the wrong side of the law. I wish he would write more historical fiction -- this is set in Cuba during the Spanish American war -- because he could give McMurtry a run for his money. There are whole sections here where the scene comes to life because of the absolute perfect pitch of the dialog. It might be said that there is a lull in the structure of the plot towards th Leonard is the master of many things, but the two that shine here above all others: dialogue, and men with ethics who end up on the wrong side of the law. I wish he would write more historical fiction -- this is set in Cuba during the Spanish American war -- because he could give McMurtry a run for his money. There are whole sections here where the scene comes to life because of the absolute perfect pitch of the dialog. It might be said that there is a lull in the structure of the plot towards the middle, but not much of one.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bill Ibelle

    I usually don't get this far in books that disappoint me, but Leonard is such a fine writer and the setting and subject matter so engaging, that I expected it to kick into gear at any moment. But around page 200 I realized that I could put it down and never pick it up again—and not be bothered in the least. So I did. The characters just didn't come alive as in other Leonard books and for such an interesting historical period the drama just seemed flat. I will try another Leonard soon to see if G I usually don't get this far in books that disappoint me, but Leonard is such a fine writer and the setting and subject matter so engaging, that I expected it to kick into gear at any moment. But around page 200 I realized that I could put it down and never pick it up again—and not be bothered in the least. So I did. The characters just didn't come alive as in other Leonard books and for such an interesting historical period the drama just seemed flat. I will try another Leonard soon to see if Get Shorty (the only other one I've read) was the exception, or whether this one simply wan't among his best.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    This is one book that would probably make a better movie than a book. Never engaged me in the characters or the story. Scenery was the only thing that stands out. My first Elmore Leonard and not sure I need to find anymore of his works.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joe Fahey

    I had a hard time getting through this book or some reason but kept plowing though it hoping things would click. The premise was intriguing, Cuba leading up to the Spanish-America War, but I had trouble getting a feel for the characters, mixing them up sometimes even. Oddly enough, I did feel like it could make a good movie though, with the right screenplay and director sorting it out.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ayny

    2.5 stars Story waxes and wanes between western romance and historical fiction. As others have commented it would make a good movie. Lots of build up waiting for something unusual or clever to happen, as Leonard's usual style. Nope. Did learn some history, and there are real life character with cameos, however, I couldn't finish. too many other books in my TBR pile looking at me!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Oel

    Am

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lily Malone

    Unfortunately, I'm not quite halfway and it's been such a struggle to get this far and it feels so slow, I'm finding it hard to care what happens to any of them, and I'm about to pull the plug.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carl R.

    Ben Tyler starts robbing banks to get back some money owed him and just keeps going because It's so easy. Yuma Prison isn't so easy, and when Tyler gets out he finds the offer from Charlie Burke intriguing. They can round up some horses and sell them in Cuba for good money. Tyler does some figuring in his head, calculating passage, feed, and sales price and understands that Charley is really running guns to Cubans rebelling against the Spanish. Burke admits it, but Tyler sees it as an okay way t Ben Tyler starts robbing banks to get back some money owed him and just keeps going because It's so easy. Yuma Prison isn't so easy, and when Tyler gets out he finds the offer from Charlie Burke intriguing. They can round up some horses and sell them in Cuba for good money. Tyler does some figuring in his head, calculating passage, feed, and sales price and understands that Charley is really running guns to Cubans rebelling against the Spanish. Burke admits it, but Tyler sees it as an okay way to get some cash. Thus begins Cuba Libre Elmore Leonard's exciting excursion into the Spanish-American War, and the only novel I know of that's named after a cocktail. Or was the cocktail named after a battle cry? Either way it's a tasty and intoxicating experience. The thing is, right after they get those horses to Cuba, the battleship Maine explodes in Havana harbor, and so does the balance of power and money all over the island. Tyler and Burke find a buyer for the horses, but he pays only half what they ask, and doesn't even come across with that. Moreover, the authorities sniff out the gun-running plot. Though they have no proof at first, the police are inclined to imprison first and look for proof later. 220px-Elmore_Leonard While they wait for money and decisions from the authorities, Tyler refuses a challenge to a duel over a perceived insult that took place during negotiations over the horses. Turns out he might as well have accepted because the guy pulls a gun anyhow. Now he's killed a prominent Cuban, justified or not, and what with this and that, he and Charlie end up in a very nasty hoosegow. They are there with a Marine who survived the Maine who is in prison pretty much just because he might be a spy or might have useful information. And all of them are subject to torture over the matter of the guns and possible spying for America, which everyone pretty much knows will be in the war any minute. Key to the action are two characters who begin as outlyers: Amelia, and Neely. She, the concubine of the sugar plantation owner who "purchased" the horses, he a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune who sees everything as a story. Neely acts as a sort of like a Greek Chorus, always describing the action, but never in it. He's a blast for a writer because he's always trying to think of just the right word and phrasing to describe a situation. Even the most agonizing and bloody events become subjects for literary rendering rather than emotional involvement. Anyhow, Amelia becomes enamored of Tyler, decides she wants to do something significant with her life, and pretends to be kidnapped so that her lover will send money, which she plans to turn over to the rebels. However, when $40,000 is involved (real money in 1898), even the motives of the purest rebel can get distorted, and we're now in Elmore country, where love and loyalty and avarice whirl around as in a kaleidoscope. Dazzling. In the middle of all this personal conflict, Leonard also manages, largely through Neely, to deliver a scathing indictment (how's that for cliche journalism?) of America's involvement in the most trumped up filibuster since the Mexican-American war 50 years earlier and Vietnam 65 years later. He even gets in a few digs at TR and his San Juan hill exploits--or lack thereof. This is one fine historical novel, different from other Leonards in that it's way over his legendary 300-page limit and carefully and specifically researched (dollar values vis-a-vis the 1898 peseta, per head horse prices, gun calibers and explosive poundage, etc.) in a way that is mostly unnecessary in his other crime novels. As a historical novelist myself as well as a Leonard devotee, I ate it up and am sorry only that it took me sooooo long to get to it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Margo Christie

    New Mary-Margo book review: 5 of 5 Stars to Elmore Leonard for "Cuba Libre." "Obviously the 34th novel of a master story teller, Cuba Libre shines in ways too numerous to mention. For starters, there's the historically-accurate setting of Cuba in the days leading up to the Spanish-American War. The Maine has just mysteriously blown-up. Publicly, the Americans blame the Spanish while, in theories reminiscent of the 2001 World Trade Center disaster, the idea that they blew up their own ship as an e New Mary-Margo book review: 5 of 5 Stars to Elmore Leonard for "Cuba Libre." "Obviously the 34th novel of a master story teller, Cuba Libre shines in ways too numerous to mention. For starters, there's the historically-accurate setting of Cuba in the days leading up to the Spanish-American War. The Maine has just mysteriously blown-up. Publicly, the Americans blame the Spanish while, in theories reminiscent of the 2001 World Trade Center disaster, the idea that they blew up their own ship as an excuse to declare war is bandied about among the locals. Tensions between the two world powers are at a record high while, in the hills, the insurrectos are staging another uprising against the plantation dons. Into this melee steps an American cowboy, Ben Tyler, with a scheme to run guns to the insurrectos while selling horses to the dons. His take-no-lip approach wins him the ire of brutal Guardia Civil officer, Lionel Tavalera, and Tyler soon finds himself in the notorious Morro prison alongside a U.S. marine, Virgil Webster, who's suspected of seeing something he shouldn't have seen while sleeping on the deck of the Maine that fateful night. Amelia Brown is the plucky mistress of wealthy landowner Rollie Boudreaux. Bored with the tearoom society of her native New Orleans, she's in Cuba searching for adventure. She likes her material comforts, but not so much that she wouldn't trade them for true love and the sense of purpose she's been lacking since she left her first true love back home. When she and Tyler set eyes on each other from across the lobby of Havana's grand Hotel Inglaterra, sparks fly as hot and fast as those from the big American guns that will soon surround the harbor. Amelia's so smitten, in fact, that she's willing to use her influence with Boudreaux and risk her cushy position as his mistress to spring Tyler and Virgil from prison. Armed with a get-rich scheme and a few friends among the locals, the three ride off into the hills rallying for an uncertain cause in which no one knows the good guys from the bad, and which will leave the Cubans with yet another domineering authority to contend."

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    Now, I'm giving this 3 stars only in comparison to Leonard's other books. I've read just about all of them and in comparison to those, this is a 3-star book. Compared to most modern novels (historical fiction or otherwise) this is a 4-star book. Basically this is a western/crime story set in late 19th century Cuba. Even though it is set in the middle of the Spanish American War, the plot could very well be shifted to the Old West. In fact, it reminded me of those Zapata Spaghetti Westerns that ta Now, I'm giving this 3 stars only in comparison to Leonard's other books. I've read just about all of them and in comparison to those, this is a 3-star book. Compared to most modern novels (historical fiction or otherwise) this is a 4-star book. Basically this is a western/crime story set in late 19th century Cuba. Even though it is set in the middle of the Spanish American War, the plot could very well be shifted to the Old West. In fact, it reminded me of those Zapata Spaghetti Westerns that take place during the Mexican revolution (films like A Professional Gun and Companeros). I found the main character of Tyler to be rather boring, though. He was a pretty typical "strong-silent type" that is common in Leonard's earlier novels. He just didn't jump off the page like some of the other characters in this book and other books by Leonard. About 3/4 of the way through it does drag a little bit and I feel like it could've benefited by a little trimming. Still, I shouldn't complain about too much Leonard as I'd love for him to write a hundred more books. But it's just after reading so many other of his books, this one seemed to go a bit slow. If you have never read Leonard, don't make this your first book. However, if you've read his work and like his style, check this pseudo-Western. Political violence, gun fights, romance, memorable bad guys, double-crosses: it's all here.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS. Having tried to read this novel once before in the past (and failing to finish), I decided to pick it up and give it another try after reading Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation in which she puts the Spanish-American War and the destruction of the USS Maine in historical perspective. I enjoyed the novel, but felt that in the pantheon of Elmore Leonard novels, this one probably falls toward the bottom. I personally have always enjoyed his urban crime novels to his weste THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS. Having tried to read this novel once before in the past (and failing to finish), I decided to pick it up and give it another try after reading Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation in which she puts the Spanish-American War and the destruction of the USS Maine in historical perspective. I enjoyed the novel, but felt that in the pantheon of Elmore Leonard novels, this one probably falls toward the bottom. I personally have always enjoyed his urban crime novels to his westerns because, while his urban crime characters always seem fully rounded, his western novel characters just seem...hollow or one-sided, like the fake down at the end of Blazing Saddles. Everything that happened felt like a set piece. And to be clear, it didn't really bother me. In fact, a few times during the book, I thought about how incredibly badass a movie or an HBO series based on this book would be. In fact, further exploration of the characters/events could really solve what I thought was the main problem with this book: I wanted more. That is almost always a common complaint of Leonard novels (they often end when you least expect them to), but I felt like "Cuba Libre" was an attempt at an "important" book that was as underwritten as most "important" books are overwritten.

  26. 4 out of 5

    James

    One his best. If you're wary or thinking, "Elmore Leonard . . . historical fiction . . . what?" don't panic. It's Elmore Leonard through and through. Mantanzas, Cuba could be Detroit and the characters all talk, act, and think like they do in his mainland American settings. This one has terrific dialogue as well as terrific pauses ("He thought about that and looked at her again") and six or seven characters trying to think one step ahead of each other. I read this when it was first published and One his best. If you're wary or thinking, "Elmore Leonard . . . historical fiction . . . what?" don't panic. It's Elmore Leonard through and through. Mantanzas, Cuba could be Detroit and the characters all talk, act, and think like they do in his mainland American settings. This one has terrific dialogue as well as terrific pauses ("He thought about that and looked at her again") and six or seven characters trying to think one step ahead of each other. I read this when it was first published and again, long after I had forgotten the machinations of the plot or who-wanted-what. If this is filmed, I hope the producer is smart enough to get Ian McShane to play Boudreaux and Timothy Oliphant to play Tyler--a Deadwood reunion that would be just fine. Wholly enjoyable and not a false phrase in the whole book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    The setting - Cuba at the outset of the Spanish-American War is an entertaining history lesson. The descriptions of Cuba - multi-ethnic, colonial, brutal, in turmoil - are really well done. The laconic horseman turned bank robber turned horse trader Tyler is an appealing character, as is the too good to be true Amelia - gun toting, leper helping woman with a seedy past. I particularly like the way the passages describing the writing processes of Neely Tucker, the Chicago war correspondent, viola The setting - Cuba at the outset of the Spanish-American War is an entertaining history lesson. The descriptions of Cuba - multi-ethnic, colonial, brutal, in turmoil - are really well done. The laconic horseman turned bank robber turned horse trader Tyler is an appealing character, as is the too good to be true Amelia - gun toting, leper helping woman with a seedy past. I particularly like the way the passages describing the writing processes of Neely Tucker, the Chicago war correspondent, violate nearly all of Leonard's rules for writers - a nice inside joke.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michael Kubat

    I thought this was my first foray into Elmore Leonard's writing, until I found out that he wrote Hombre, which I know in its movie version (Paul Newman, et al). Tough reading actually, poring through the complexities of his characters, and dealing with the meaninglessness of so many of the deaths. I did not mind the slow-mo plot: quite the contrary, it gave me an opportunity to experience the flavor of the characters and the rich description of the setting. I think I will go and get some more...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    2018 reread: Probably still my favorite Leonard novel after 4 time through it. Old review: I thought it would be interesting to give this and True Grit a reread since I just read through this time period in my presidential read through.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    This was kind of boring. Not bad, but I was hoping for a little more entertainment. But, it did want to make me learn more about Cuban history, and that's something, right? And made me want to re-read Out of Sight to see if it's much better than this like I remember...

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