Harbor of Spies: Book summary and reviews of Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd

Harbor of Spies

A Novel of Historic Havana

by Robin Lloyd

Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd X
Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd
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Book Summary

A captivating thriller-at-sea, Harbor of Spies is at once a spy story, a sea story and a love story set in Spanish colonial Havana in the 1860s, a time when the city was flush with sugar wealth and filled with signs of the American Civil War.

Harbor of Spies is an historical novel set in Havana in 1863 during the American Civil War, when the Spanish colonial city was alive with intrigue and war related espionage. The protagonist - a young American ship captain named Everett Townsend - is pulled into the war, not as a Naval officer, as he had once hoped, but as the captain of a blockade-running schooner. The rescue of a man outside Havana harbor sets in motion a plot where Townsend finds himself trapped by circumstances beyond his control. He soon realizes how this good deed has put his own life in danger, entangling him in a sensitive murder investigation.

Townsend is forced to work for a profiteering Spanish merchant who introduces him to a world of spies, blockade runners, and slave traders. As a foreigner and an outsider in Cuba, he struggles to maintain his own sense of identity. As he grapples with the uncertain moral terrain he finds in Havana, Townsend becomes ever more involved with the mystery surrounding the murder. Even at sea, where his ship-handling skills are put to the ultimate test against the Navy's powerful gunships, he finds he is unable to avoid reminders about the unsolved murder of a top English diplomat.

From the bars, to the docks, to the dance halls, Townsend's path moves from colonial Havana to the slave plantations in the interior. There amid the harsh cruelty he discovers in the Cuban countryside, he unexpectedly begins to unravel a family mystery. Together with the daughter of an American innkeeper in Havana he confronts the veiled, dangerous forces he finds on the island.

Harbor of Spies is a richly drawn portrait of Spanish colonial Havana at a time when the city was flush with sugar wealth and filled with signs of the American Civil War. It is a realistic look at Cuba's role in the war, and the importance of the scores of blockade running ships--both sail and steam--that ran the gauntlet of the Union blockade from Havana into the Gulf of Mexico.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Which of the novel's descriptions of historical detail impressed you the most?
  2. "You must trust me," Michael Abbott tells Townsend, who opts to hide him. Was Townsend right to trust him? What would you have done in similar circumstances?
  3. Townsend muses on the meaning of the Spanish word to survive, which translates "to be on the top of life." He thinks this means "to overcome one's miseries, the sadness, the fears and the loss" and wonders if the meaning of life is merely to confront these challenges. What do you think?
  4. Emma tells Townsend, "We've got to find Abbott and help Grace Backhouse discover who killed her husband." Why do you think she was so compelled to get involved?
  5. Emma thinks Townsend's initial refusal to get involved ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Harbor of Spies:

Before reading this book, were you aware that foreign countries were interested in the outcome of America's Civil War and attempted to interfere? Did you know about Cuba's role in the conflict? Does knowing this change your perception of current events?
Not having grown up in the States, and with only a one year's course in American history at a community college, I was extremely interested in the aspect of the slavery situation. I too hadn't realized that the Civil War was of such vital interest ... - marionw

Britain abolished slavery in 1833; do you think they helped perpetuate it elsewhere by their actions?
Yes, their actions all over the world perpetuated slavery. It was probably much easier for British citizens to feel that they held the moral high ground when they couldn’t see the effects of their policies on the people in British colonies and ... - Elizabeth Marie

Contribution to Civil War fiction?
I have to agree also. Well said all of you. - renem

Do you agree with Townsend that if his mother had stayed on her Cuban plantation that "her principles would have slowly eroded" and she would have become like her mother?
I believe it would have been very difficult for her to stay on the Plantation. She would not have been able to handle the abuse. I do believe though that the longer you live with something, the more you come to accept it. it was necessary for her... - nancyh

Do you have political divides with friends, family or co-workers, and if so, how do you handle them?
Yes, I have significant divides with family, friends and co-workers. It depends on who the people are. If it can be a rational discussion, I will engage and ask why they feel the way they do. If I know it will be hostile, I don't engage. I ... - PinkLady

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Lloyd's second novel, after Rough Passage to London, is a swashbuckling spy adventure set in 1863 Havana, Cuba...Everett's family melodrama and a romance plot are also included, but the real draw is Lloyd's excellent historical detail." - Publishers Weekly

"Harbor of Spies is that rare novel with the perfect mix of the magics. There is intrigue and romance combined with history and mystery set in a real time and place--colonial Cuba during the U.S. Civil War. The end result is a page-turning excursion through dangers and delights that will both entertain and enlighten. Enjoy!" - Jim Lehrer, journalist and novelist

"Robin Lloyd has written a captivating thriller-at-sea in Harbor of Spies. This book is at once a spy story, a sea story and a love story. The setting is exotic and highly original--Havana in the 1860s. The scenes of battle at sea are beautifully rendered. This second seafaring novel by Robin Lloyd cruises at hull speed." - David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post

"Robin Lloyd tells the story of a young man's moral journey set against the exotic, alluring, repellent background of colonial, slave-owning Havana during the American Civil War. Readers will be swept away by the drama, romance, and intrigue of this tale--taken from real historical events and made thrilling, memorable, and meaningful by a sure-handed author."--Evan Thomas, bestselling author of Being Nixon, John Paul Jones, and The War Lovers

This information about Harbor of Spies shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Julie F.

Highly enjoyed and recommend!
If you enjoy historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. The plot of the book quickly engages and keeps you turning the pages. For me, much of the historical information was new and opened my eyes to an aspect of the Civil War that does not receive much attention. It is on my highly recommended list for my friends!

Peggy T

Adventure at Sea
I found this to be an interesting and informative adventure. It made me want to learn more about the history of slavery and the sugar plantations in Cuba as well as the blockade.
The addition of the actual murder and the fictional romance enhanced the story. Good for readers of the Master and Commander series.

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Author Information

Robin Lloyd Author Biography

Robin Lloyd's early years were spent on the island of St. Croix where his parents owned a dairy farm and milk plant. As a boy, he grew up sailing in the Caribbean. Lloyd was a foreign correspondent for NBC News for many years where he reported mostly from Latin America and Africa. He also covered the White House during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Lloyd has created and produced news programs with foreign networks as well as documentaries and segments for domestic stations, including Maryland Public Television. Among his prestigious awards are four Emmys from the National Capital Chesapeake Bay region and an Overseas Press Award. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Link to Robin Lloyd's Website

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