This short novel was written when Hemingway was living in Key West and paying regular visits to Cuba, before moving, lock, stock, and barrel, to Havana in 1939. The author was a keen deep-sea fisherman himself, who craved a laid-back tropical lifestyle between bouts of high adventure. To Have and Have Not draws heavily on his intimate knowledge of early nineteen-thirties life in the Florida Keys, the north coast of Cuba, the Gulf Stream in between, the fishing boats that worked these waters, and the men who owned and manned them.
This was the time of the Great Depression. Harry Morgan has been bilked of his dues for a fishing charter out of Havana. Broke, he turns to smuggling with its inevitable risks, in order to support his family, while the author treats the reader to a simply told, suspenseful, and sometimes poignant morality tale. A tale with a rich share of characters ranging from down-and-out "rummies", Cuban revolutionaries, bar-owners, drunken authors, customs men, and an inevitably crooked lawyer, to wealthy owners of luxury steam-yachts.
Interestingly, if a little quirkily structured, the book is divided into three parts. The first is told in the first person, most of the remainder in the third. To Have and Have Not should be viewed as a product - as well as a story - of its time, particularly in respect of terminologyy that would today be seen as highly racist and derogatory. Not "Papa's" best work, but most assuredly a yarn that held this reader's attention throughout.