Friday, June 20, 2008

Leonardo Padura: Havana Gold

A few reviews of Leonardo Padura's Havana Gold.

This is the final novel in the English-language version of Padura's Four Seasons series of novels, set in Havana in 1989, although in fact it is the second in the original Spanish. Again we have a murder set against the looming crisis of Cuba's Special Period as the implosion of the Soviet Union starts. And again the disillusioned detective Mario Conde sets out to resolve the crime in his own slow-paced, insightful manner. It is a formula that has worked throughout the four-part series as well as in two other novels, Adios Hemingway and the latest, and by far most sophisticated work in this genre, La neblina del ayer (2005, still untranslated into English). Leonardo Padura's recent presentation at the International Institute for the Study of Cuba will have illustrated the reason for his novels' popularity (now translated into sixteen languages) and his own personal success.

The plot is simple: the body of Lissette Delgado, a young teacher, is found after she has been raped, beaten and strangled. Mario Conde's mission is to find the killer, a challenge that takes him through the crumbling streets of Havana to his old high school, where Lissette taught. The Special Period is on the verge of arriving, along with massive dislocations in Cuban society - and the edgy atmosphere, complete with incipient social problems (drugs were virtually unheard of until this time), growing corruption, and generally demoralized environment, are all superbly presented.
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Like an indulgent parent, Leonardo Padua allows his literary progeny (in this, his fifth outing) free rein to chat up women, argue about books and music, get drunk with friends and express his desires. Indeed, we get to know The Count so well, and become so involved with his arguments about Franny and Zooey (better than The Catcher in The Rye), John Fogerty (the greatest ever voice) and “Strawberry Fields” (The Beatles’ best song), that unravelling the murder becomes almost incidental to the plot.

Havana Gold is a textured treat for those who like their detective fiction served long and lazy with a double shot of rum.
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Havana Gold is the fourth novel in the Havana quartet by Leonardo Padura and once again creates a rich and fascinating portrayal of a crumbling yet vibrant city. Lusty, macho, foul-mouthed and poetic in roughly equal amounts Lieutenant Conde becomes our guide to the faded grandeur of Cuba's stylish yet poverty-stricken capital as he reflects on the changing conditions in the city that he grew up in. Vital and rough-edged, Havana Gold is perhaps best enjoyed with a glass of rum and a cigar.
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