I never quite got round to reading Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana until recently. It is a story about a vacuum cleaner salesman, Wormold, who lives in Havana, whose adolescent daughter spends his money with a skill that dumbfounds him. So when a mysterious Englishman offers him an extra income; he is tempted. In return for the boost to his finances all he has to do is file a few reports. Wormold, thus, ends up working for MI6. But when his fake reports start coming true, things suddenly get more complicated and Havana becomes a threatening place. Espionage, murder, torture, poisoning, embezzlement and nail-biting tension are the elements that bubble away in the cauldron of this classic of the spy genre. It is also a love story of sorts. However, you could be misled into thinking that the book is just another po-faced thriller engineered to keep readers on the edge of their seats. But it’s not. In actual fact, the book is a brilliant satire of that particular genre and parts of it are hilarious.
Faced with the practical difficulties of spying, when you are stuck in a retail outlet all day and haven’t a clue how to go about the task, Wormold starts sending fake reports to London about a secret installation that is being built in the mountains of Cuba. He invents agents, puts them on the payroll, and purloins the salaries of these fictitious employees to pay for his daughter’s excessive retail therapy. However, his reports prove so thorough and interesting, that a small team of helpers is sent from MI6 headquarters in London to work for Wormold in Havana and to set up a station there for him to aid in the work of spying on the enemy. Wormold then has the problem of how to keep his imaginary operatives from ever meeting anyone in the team. For, although none of the names he has given London, are actually agents, he does furnish names of actual people living in Havana, by taking them from the membership roster of an exclusive country club.