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King Bongo
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About the Author

Thomas Sanchez lived for many years in Key West, Mallorca, and Paris, where the French Republic awarded him the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. He currently resides in Key West. He is the author of King Bongo, Mile Zero, Day of the Bees, Zoot-Suit Murders and Rabbit Boss, which was named by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the most important books of the twentieth century.

Reviews

The title character of Sanchez's latest novel is a Cuban American living in Havana in 1957, just before Castro's revolution. Ethnically and socially, Bongo is a man of two worlds, by day a mild-mannered insurance salesman, by night an acclaimed bongo drum virtuoso who creates a sensation wherever he plays. Bongo's sister, a stunning exotic dancer known as the Panther, has not been seen since the night the Tropicana was bombed by terrorists. Bongo's desperate search for her takes him to every corner of the decadent city, from the lavish casinos and opulent hotels to the dives of the red-light district and the opium dens of the city's Chinatown. Bongo's legendary status as a master musician opens all doors. This is Sanchez's second try at tropical noir, following Mile Zero, which was set in Key West. The new book is lushly atmospheric and packed with eccentric characters, but it is a one-note performance that quickly grows stale. A disappointingly simplistic book from an important American author. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"We understand the economics of love," says Mrs. Armstrong, a sexy American socialite residing in Cuba. "To really sell a torch song, you've got to be willing to light yourself on fire." Like her, an entire gallery of wonderfully eccentric characters seems ready to go up in flames in this flamboyant noir epic by Sanchez (Mile Zero; Zoot-Suit Murders). It is 1957 in Havana, and glamorous, ambitious young insurance agent King Bongo ("he was a little man, but he had a big plan") is primed to sell a major policy to the owner of the legendary Tropicana nightclub. On New Year's Eve, he heads for the club, where his sister-the island's most glittery showgirl, known as the Panther-is performing. But before Bongo can do his business, a bomb goes off in front of the stage, and in the havoc the Panther disappears. To find her, Bongo must travel from colonial country clubs to squalid alleyways, challenged by sinister rivals like the nefarious Humberto Zapata, an official in the island's secret police force, and threatened by a constant undertone of seduction, violence and revolutionary stirrings. Sanchez's writing can evoke the hard-boiled masters of the past-he describes Havana's rows of houses, for example, as "old tarts posing for a group reunion shot in the glare of tropical sunlight"-though his stylings sometimes spin out of control ("Guys spilled the guts of their lies as beer foamed, whiskey flowed, rum drummed"). The occasional sloppiness aside, however, he succeeds in creating an independent world that is at once highly stylized and believable. (May 2) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"Unflinching realism . . . a passport into Cuba's many layers, comfortable with the sun-kissed and the damned." --The Miami Herald

"Big-picture, epic story-telling...full of believable myth. Sanchez has taken the entire historical and cross-cultural immensity of [Havana] and telescoped it into an intricately twisted mystery." --San Francisco Chronicle.

"An exotic portrait of sex, violence, corruption and conspiracy in Cuba." --Washington Post

"As propulsive as the Gulf Stream. King Bongo uses the conventions of the thriller, mixed with a little magical realism and a lot of parody, to approach serious issues from a different angle." --Los Angeles Times

"It's fast. It's a thriller. It's sexy and violent. . . . The narration is as propulsive as the Gulf Stream." --The Los Angeles Times

"An exotic portrait of sex, violence, corruption and conspiracy." --The Washington Post

"Big-picture, epic story-telling. . . . Sanchez has taken the entire historical and cross-cultural immensity of his [Havana] and telescoped it into an intricately twisted mystery." --San Francisco Chronicle

"[King Bongo] swims with revolutionaries and corrupt police, American gangsters and debauched Hollywood movie stars, Cuban showgirls and rich American tourists. Its colors are lurid, its tropes ambitious, its narrative piled high with upholstered imagery...Sanchez presents this rich gumbo with an assured showmanship." -South Florida Sun Sentinel

"Imagine that the styles of Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene eloped and ran off to Havana in 1957-Sanchez's King Bongo is their love child. . . . A beautiful book." -The San Francisco Examiner

"Gripping . . . Sanchez is a marvelous writer. He creates startling images of worlds unknown to the average reader. Then he propels his stories at high speed. Once you are launched into King Bongo, you must keep reading to find out what happens." -Houston Chronicle

"Seduction and betrayal...a classic noir style that dances to a '50s beat...rich pop culture details and political reverberations...[Sanchez's] Havana is a lavish and menacing dreamscape." -St. Petersburg Times

"Sanchez has exhumed a lost moment in time--the last days of a Caribbean Pompei." --The Oregonian

"Colorful, vibrant and pulsing with life.... Havana in the '50s...[the] territory of alcohol-drenched tropical noir tales of Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry and W. Somerset Maugham, gets a strong jolt of Cuban coffee and good old American rock'n'roll... Sanchez manages to evoke a rich, vibrant Havana with its magical dreaminess fully intact." -The News-Press (Florida)

"The writing of Thomas Sanchez is a lush display of the pain of truth and the power of integrity. King Bongo is a lyrical masterpiece of such potency that no glass bottle of 'genre' could ever contain its impact. Not to read this book is to suffer a self-inflicted wound of irreplaceable loss." --Andrew Vachss

"Begins . . . with a real bang. [Sanchez] knows how to ignite a story and keep it burning." -Detroit Free Press

"Intricately-plotted . . . full of surprises and vivid, often bizarre characters. There are echoes here of Dashiel Hammett and Graham Greene, but the music is Sanchez's own, and a captivating music it is, moving with the swift, syncopated rhythms of an Afro-Cuban dance." --Phil Caputo

"Sanchez ably constructs a layered mystery. . . . [He] most successfully and sensitively evokes Havana when he probes the racial dynamics of pre-revolution Cuba." -The Miami Herald

"Nasty cool. A terrific read-swift and grotesque, bursting with dark magic, humor and design." --Joy Williams

"On the brink of revolution [Havana] proves as sinister a crossroads as any...each twist and turn introduces a new set of characters more outrageous than the last." --San Antonio Express

"Powerful...spectacular...amazing." -Howard Norman

"A surrealistic fairy tale of Havana, filled with strange and diverse characters. Sanchez's novel can be read as a contemporary Shakespearean tragedy, and provides insight into a place and a time that is forever lost." --Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

"Sanchez's sleuth follows in the noble line of detectives in Dashiell Hammett's and Raymond Chandler's fiction. [King Bongo is] savvy and unsentimental, but he's vulnerable and highly emotional, a real latin lover." --The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)

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