HAVANNAH by Hugh Thomas


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The noted historian (Cuba, Europe, A History of the WorM) has unfortunately chosen a fictional frame for this brilliantly researched chronicle of the capture of Spain's ""Havannah"" by the British in 1762. Young Mr. Lucksmoor of Liverpool is the narrator; he observes the expedition from its inception to its somewhat humiliating outcome. However, Lucksmoor himself is more of a conduit than a vital character, too easily buried beneath the personalities, events, and miscellaneous detail here--a rich treat for history buffs, perhaps, but rather a slog as fiction. At the outset, there's lively chat about the churning industry of Liverpool: merchant enterprises, religious institutions, finance, shifting alliances in high places. Then Lucksmoor is taken on by merchant Kennion for a journey to the West Indies, to work ""on accounts"" for a ""royal expedition which is like to be the greatest military expedition of the century."" (Kennion has been given permission to import slaves from Jamaica after Lord Albemarle's expected victory.) In the Admiralty office, bristling with titles and in-fighting powers, Lucksmoor learns how ""light is blurred near the promontories of decision, but. . . how clearly it emerged. . . that public men are often the tools of advisers, whose victories are private."" At last, determined to bring down Havannah's El Morro fortress, the 210-ship expedition sets sail; there are shifting strategies, skirmishes and battles, the sweep of fatal disease; then, with artist-friend Dominic Serres, Lucksmoor enters Havannah as a spy, participates in an African rite, is captured and rescued. The victory is finally achieved. ""But my dear,"" says Albemarle, ""we are so ill."" And, himself nearly dying of the fever, Lucksmoor survives to return home. . . only to see victory snuffed out by a Tory/Whig power play. Slow going as storytelling--but admirers of Thomas' shrewd approach to history will appreciate the incisive profiles, the witty speculations, and the keen political commentary.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles