“Bill Wyeth is safe.” Well ensconced in a productive career with a prestigious law firm, Wyeth has accomplished the status of a successful Manhattanite - large, expensive apartment, upscale friends, and a son who enjoys the fruits of his father’s upward mobility. If the family, including Bill’s wife, Judith, have become addicted to their luxurious lifestyle, it is not something they worry about. Then, with one tragic event, everything changes.
The night of eight-year-old Timothy’s birthday slumber party, the son of a wealthy and influential man dies in a freak accident of an allergic reaction - and it is Bill Wyeth’s fault. The grieving father of the dead boy reacts instinctively, pressuring Bill’s law firm, essentially beginning the torturous process of dismantling Wyeth’s carefully constructed life. Unable to cope, Judith panics, files for divorce, and separates son from father by moving from the East to the West Coast. Wyeth is on a downhill slide, unemployed and demoralized, landing eventually in a tattered third-floor walkup.
By accident or fate, Wyeth initiates a habitual visit to a local steakhouse. Its well-lived in décor and sense of permanence appeals to him, as does the manager of the restaurant, Allison Sparks. Nurturing a flirtatious relationship with the attractive Sparks, Bill becomes a regular, increasingly fascinated by a room that is only used by a select few, the Havana Room. Whatever happens in that room is a secret, and Bill is hoping that eventually Allison will reveal the interior of the room and its purpose.
So he is surprised one evening when Allison importunes him, as an attorney, to read over the contracts for a multi-million-dollar land exchange that must be finished by a strict deadline. Bill meets his client, Jay Rainey, a handsome, compelling man, with only minutes to spare. Against Wyeth’s professional advice, the deal is done.
Wyeth is ready to move on but is trapped by exigent circumstances that spiral into a nightmarish drama that includes a frozen dead man, threats by thugs, an adamant buyer of Long Island real estate, and a series of half-truths, Rainey an integral part of a complicated puzzle. Drawn deeper into a set of problems not of his making, Bill is threatened and cajoled, discovering facts that are profoundly upsetting and frustrated at every turn.
Caught up in New York’s netherworld where the social niceties of upper Manhattan are virtually meaningless, Bill is at the center of an ambitious land grab and the sad story of a young man’s shattered dreams. Missing his son, Timothy, more with every passing day, Wyeth despairs of his old life with each new twist of fate.
Reminiscent of Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, Harrison’s dense prose shudders under the weight of overwhelming circumstances, the difficulty of clawing out from under life’s debris, the arcane secrets of the Havana Room, and the vagaries of an uncertain future: “Like insect colonies and creeping plants, these intrigues need a bit of moisture and darkness to thrive.”