The Havana Game

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

Thankyou to NetGalley,  Kensington Books, Pinnacle and the author,  John Lutz, for the opportunity to read a digital copy of The Havana Game in exchange for an honest and unbiased opinion. 
What a really good read.  The storyline was well written with compelling characters. I was hooked,  trying to figure out how it was all going to end. 
Worth a read.
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The Havana Game is a high-stakes espionage thriller that crosses the entire globe before a deadly showdown that just might determine the fate of the world.  Laker is a secret agent but he’s so confident he knows what he’s doing sometimes he takes action without seeking backup from headquarters.  Here, that action results in the world turning against Laker as he flees across Russia on how own Jason Bourne style with no one to turn to and no one to trust.  Great action scenes in Vladivostok as Laker tries to figure out what’s going on with half the Red Army on his heels.  This is an easy-to-read fun exciting thriller worth picking up.
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Thank you to John Lutz and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this book. Awesome spy thriller! Would recommend.
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John Lutz’s first Thomas Laker Thriller, The Honorable Traitors, was published in January 2018. How is it that a year later, the plot of The Havana Game deserves the accolade ripped from the headlines? Does Lutz have a mole inside the National Security Agency (NSA) of the caliber of Deep Throat? Thomas Laker and Ava North both work for the NSA although Laker reports directly to Samuel Mason, who heads up “the covert Gray Outfit,” so underground it’s off the books.

Ava, Thomas’s girlfriend, is with him when he gets a text from his boss: “‘My office Mon 0730. Bring your toothbrush.’” Translation: it’s wings up for Thomas who’ll “be going directly from the briefing to the airport.” Their two months of togetherness in Washington, DC, are about to end. Ava has a cryptic warning for Laker and given that she’s a cryptographer at the National Security Agency and she’s part of the powerful politically-connected North clan, it behooves him to listen carefully. Besides, she does crosswords in ink, in French, with nary a dictionary in sight.

She said, “Laker, wherever they send you, whatever the job is, look for a bear under the bed.”


He returned to the sofa and stood looking down at her. “I love it when you go all cryptic and portentous.”


“I shouldn’t be saying anything at all. I’ve been reminded many times that at the NSA, committees issue cautious, well-supported recommendations. Individuals keep their opinions in the building.”


“But your opinion is?”


“The Russians are planning something big.”

Let’s back up. The Havana Game opens with an astonishingly low-tech display of spy craft.

Don’t look at anybody.


His trainers had told him that. All of them. He’d been trained by both sides in this war, and considering they were enemies, it was funny how similar the training was. Especially the dictum When you’re operational, don’t look at anybody.

What’s a body to do when a pacifier rolls beside your foot and the baby’s mother doesn’t notice but the other passengers do? No spy wants to make eye contact with someone: “The danger was that they would look back.” There’s something off about the statement: “he’d been trained by both sides.” The operative reaches his stop on the edge of “the ancient edge of the city,” where “spires and domes looked black against the dark-gray sky,” and presses a detonator. It doesn’t end well. Mason fills in Laker.

As usual, he skipped the small talk. “You heard what happened yesterday in Tallinn, Estonia?”


“A streetcar platform was bombed. Fifty-two killed, at last count, and more than twice that number injured. Last I heard, no claim of responsibility.”


“Death toll is up to fifty-four now. Still no claim.”


“Unusual. If it was ISIS or some other Mideast terrorist organization, they’d be boasting about it.”

Laker shares Ava’s warning to “look for a bear under the bed,” and outlines how Russia regards Estonia. It’s chilling.

Laker said, “Moscow’s in an expansionist mood these days. They’d like Estonia back.”


“And the rest of the Baltic republics.”

The approach Russia uses in Crimea and Ukraine won’t work in Estonia because it’s a member of NATO where “an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all.” Laker’s assignment: go to Estonia and exercise his “finesse. Judgment. Not single-handed heroics.” Mason tells Laker his Beretta stays on U.S. soil. The civilized investigation blows up in Laker’s face—it “seems” an American soldier is responsible for the terrorist explosion. Laker doesn’t buy that scenario, “but after a second attack leaves him out in the cold,” he goes underground, determined to follow the meager dots no matter where they lead.

“When the cat’s away, the mice will play,” sums up Ava’s life in Laker’s absence. A fellow NSA agent is murdered: “when tracks lead to a Cuban-American billionaire in bed with the Jersey Mob, Ava’s superiors want her to lay off.” Will she? No, she resigns on the spot. That makes two NSA agents gone rogue. How will it end? Are their stories connected? The answer might have been stranger than fiction a few years back, but it screams of realpolitik today. The Havana Game is a tour de force, utterly unputdownable.
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As a spy thriller, this actually seems more realistic than most, with no incredible superheroes or too far-fetched plot. Great story and characters, easy to read and really hard to predict.
Please don't try the rope trick at home, it won't work.
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The Havana Game by John Lutz is the second book in his series about Thomas Laker and  Ava North. Each one is investigating their own case and have no idea that their might be a connection. Laker is working on a complicated plot in Russia and Eva is trying to learn what caused the death of a coworker.  Eventually they come together and are shocked to see their missions are connected. Both are in very dangerous situations but work together to solve their missions.
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A well-crafted thriller from a capable writer, The Havana Game moves along its tracks with solid pacing toward a predictable but still interesting denouement. Intelligence operative Tom Laker is on a bear hunt,just as his girlfriend, Ava North, a junior cryptologist at the NSA,, warned him when she mentioned her suspicions about a Russian attempt to stir up trouble on the NATO-protected border between the former Russian territory and the Baltic nation of Estonia. Ava's warnings to her own superiors are ignored, but Tom takes them seriously enough to head to Talkin before pursuing leads that take him across Russia, to Mexico, and eventually to Cuba before he's captured on the old freighter that's about to deliver a deadly cargo to a carefully camouflaged , long-prepared secret missile base. Imagine his surprise - but not the reader's - when he finds Ava in the same cell.
This is a well-told tale by an expert in the genre.
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The second book in the Laker-North-Gray Outfit series is carrying on even stronger than the first. International  intrigue is expertly handled by the author keeping the reader anxious to se how the dynamic team works things out.
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Ever since he rose to power, Vladimir Putin has made no secret of the fact that he would like to restore Russia to its former glory. The biggest obstacle to that is retaking the countries that were formerly part of the USSR. It is therefore no surprise when a bomb is detonated in a part of Estonia known for its pro-Russia population. American intelligence agent Thomas Laker is tasked with finding a missing soldier who is thought to have a role in the attack. The puzzling thing is that no one is taking credit for the attack. An investigation reveals that the Semtex used in the bomb is from an American military base.   Meanwhile, Laker’s girlfriend, who works for the NSA, is looking into the mysterious death of a low-level NSA employee. Neither one knows that the two investigations will soon intersect in the most unlikely of ways.

The Havana Game by John Lutz is a first rate thriller and the second one featuring Gray Outfit agent Thomas Laker. Lutz is an accomplished author, recipient of two Lifetime Achievement Awards and various others, including the Edgar and Shamus. As thrillers go, I would say Havana Game is especially well written because Lutz draws from and expands on actual world events to write a novel that is frighteningly realistic. This is the kind of novel that will keep a reader’s interest from the first page to the last. If you like authors such as Ted Bell and Robert Ludlum, put this book in your to-be-read pile. I would give this book 4/5 stars.

*A copy of this ebook is the only compensation received in exchange for this review.*
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I guess I need to find Thomas Laker #1, because surprisingly #2 was pretty good!!  Careful though with partner Ava North as she teetered close to superhero status.  A fun and entertaining read from a very good writer.  He hooked me in good!!!

Thank you NG!
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I got into this book straightaway which is what I always think a good story should do and I loved the interwoven paths of the two main characters  which cleverly melds into the same ending for both. If I’m honest I did see that coming and wasn’t a twist or surprise but nonetheless it didn’t spoil one bit a good story that had me looking forward to picking it up after work etc
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The second Thomas Laker thriller and it's a good one.

It grabs you from the opening chapter and is a well crafted contemporary thriller that excites and enthrals.

John Lutz is an experienced writer and a safe pair of hands who knows exactly how to create a winning formula and the Thomas Laker series could well be a long lasting one.
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Could the U.S.A. be linked to a terrorist attack? Have the port staff perished in an explosion involving a tram bombing?
What does Lina Opalski who lived to tell the story know and what is she willing to share as the owner cafe who was near the debris field?
Is Barsinian the bomber? Could a US soldier turn into a bomber?
This book has it all and then some as Thomas Laker is sent to untangle the mess.
Nearly 5k miles away his partner Ava North is investigating the murder of one of their own.
All leads bring them to the Cuban -American billionaire in bed with the Jersey Mob.
These two separate plots are threatening to destroy them all unless Laker and Ava work together to bring them down.
Breaching protocol and making up the rules as they move forward may be the only way to salvation.
An incredible read by John Lutz.
Thank you John, the publisher, NetGalley, and Aldiko for this ARC in exchange for this honest review.
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Another winner from the author.  A book filled with exciting mystery and suspense.  This is a book that I would recommend to others.
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