Mario Conde is Cuba's best-known cop. A hard-boiled, hard-drinking, rule-breaking, loose-living police lieutenant who views the world around him through a hungover haze of cynicism and rum, he is no revolutionary role model. The Havana he inhabits, with its nervous transvestites, corrupt ex-officials and moralising newsreaders, is a rough old place. But the cop and his city have no shortage of admirers.
Leonardo Padura, a 50-year-old journalist-turned-author, has recently won his third Premio Hammett (the International Association of Crime Writers award) for his latest Mario Conde novel. And yet, he says, what he is writing now, with its references to misbehaviour and unconventional sexuality, would never have been published in the stricter Cuba in which he grew up.
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