Hull traces Cuba’s convoluted history from long before Greene’s first visit, setting the scene for what would become one of his most memorable characters, the police chief Captain Segura. Greene modelled Segura on Lt-Col Esteban Ventura, who also wore a white linen suit and oversaw new forms of torture. And Hull carries the story on beyond the writing of Our Man in Havana to the clamour among film producers for its rights, which ultimately went to Carol Reed, with whom Greene had already made The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. The actual filming, however, was not altogether harmonious. The stars – Ralph Richardson, Burl Ives, Alec Guinness and Noël Coward – bickered, while the islanders complained of being traduced. Hemingway, who felt that Greene was muscling in on his territory, sneered, and Reed was forced to make changes in order to avoid offending the new post-revolutionary sensitivities.
Anybody interested in either Greene or Cuba will find this a splendid read, with a trainspotterly level of detail. Hull’s prose is often excitable and sometimes a little gauche but it is a world away from dry-as-dust academese, and he has a pleasing tendency to pursue intriguing theories with little regard for their plausibility...The best thing about Hull’s book, however, is also the best thing about Greene’s novel: the resurrection of Batista’s Havana in all its delicious loucheness and horrific violence, a lost city that might not still retain its hold on the world’s collective memory if Graham Greene had not been in such a happily truculent mood at the airport in San Juan.
Christopher Hull, a historian at the University of Chester, tells a marvellous story in Our Man Down in Havana, explaining Greene’s long and complicated relationship with Cuba. His research is, frankly, humbling: he has found many documents that no one has read before and many witnesses who have never been interviewed. The book is vivid and accurate in ways that most other works on Greene simply aren’t.
[Greene's] satire on British post-imperial self-delusion, and the way that cock-ups spawn cover-ups, is as topical today as when it was written... Those who relish every detail of Greene’s life will find Hull’s book rewarding. Others may find its literary and romantic twists and turns a little heavy going. Bewitching though Greene’s books are, the author himself does not come across as particularly sympathetic. Hull correctly identifies the great man’s distinctive personal characteristics as being seedy, moody and selfish... To the end of Greene’s life, in 1991, Hull notes that the author had a penchant for “provocative, contradictory and diversionary statements”. Indeed. That would have been a good starting point for the book, rather than its conclusion. Our Man Down in Havana is a stalwart and original contribution to Greeneology. But most readers may find their time better spent in rereading the master’s own works.
Christopher Hull is a footslogging, down-to-earth lecturer in Spanish and Latin American studies at Leicester University, who has written what he calls ‘the story behind a story and the story that follows the story’. It is the kind of obsessive book I like best — a full-body immersion into Greeneland, which may overwhelm the uninitiated but delight his most committed readers... There are perils in following Greene’s footsteps too closely: his biographer Norman Sherry went mad. Hull treads the windy side of sanity. He is capable of veering between the dizzily literal and the wildly speculative (‘surely we can assume, ‘it is logical’, ‘it is possible’), but for the most part he keeps on track.
In “Our Man Down in Havana” Mr Hull argues that, as well as drawing on his secret-service experience to describe the bumbling nature of much intelligence work, Greene was eerily prophetic about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which arose when reconnaissance flights proved that the Soviet Union was constructing missile sites on the island. He makes a game case, but some readers might conclude that coincidence is a more apt judgment than prescience. Mr Hull even sees Greene’s “clairvoyance” at work in the faulty evidence of weapons of mass destruction on which the invasion of Iraq was based in 2003.
It would be interesting to know what the novelist would make of that reverent appraisal. Still, Mr Hull’s book is a delicious companion to the tale Greene confected from the incompetence of spooks and an island in turmoil.