Leonardo Padura Fuentes is the internationally acclaimed author of several novels including the “Havana Quartet”, a series of detective novels featuring Havana police Inspector Mario Conde. The latest installment, available in English, in that series is Havana Red. Havana Red was awarded the Dashiell Hammett prize for detective fiction in Spain in 2004. Adios Hemingway, the next Mario Conde mystery, is due out this month. Padura lives in Havana, Cuba.
PA: Do you favor the detective/crime fiction genre? If so, why?
LP: I remember that back in 1977, when I wrote the first book review that I had published in a magazine, it was a commentary on a crime novel. Since that time, when I was a liberal arts student at the University of Havana and wasn’t even dreaming of being a fiction writer, I was already very close to the crime novel, dark, detectivesque, or whatever you want to call it, but at the same time I was developing my preferences for the approaches of authors such as Hammett and Chandler. Then, in the 80’s, I was the critic “par excelence” of the Cuban-authored crime novel, and was also sketching out my interests. I did not like the majority of those Cuban crime or spy novels, but what was lacking was “literature,” perhaps because there were too many very obvious political intentions, almost typical of socialist realism. For this reason, back in 1990, when I emerged from a period of six years during which I did practically nothing but journalism—I had written my first novel in 1984, Horse Fever (Fiebre de caballos), a story of love and initiation – I had decided to write a crime novel and I had several objectives. Among these were, it had to be very Cuban, but not resembling those crime novels that I had criticized; that it should be a crime novel, but only in appearance, because I was more interested in the literary aspect than in any kind of mystery; that it should have Hammett and Chandler as models, but also authors who I had been reading in those years, such as Vazques Montalban, Chester Himes, Jean Patrick Manchette and many other non-crime-novel authors.
My decision to write that novel, which I titled Past Perfect (Pasado Perfecto) and which was first published in 1991 had several purposes, but the greatest was that, being a crime novel, it should also be a social novel, because I believe that one of the virtues of this genre is that one can utilize it in any way one wishes, as long as it [does not] violate the known rules of what one is doing. The “dark” novel can take one directly to the darkest corners of a reality, of a society, while always maintaining something that is very important to me: the possibility of communicating with readers. That is why I like the police-type novel so much – I call my novels “false crime novels,” because the crime novel structure is only a pretext to get to other places – and being that I have practiced it so much: of my eight novels, six are police-type, even though I must recognize that my most ambitious book, The Novel of my Life, is a novel of intrigue in which there are no cadavers, even though there are some mysteries.
You can find the full interview here