Friday, 29 September 2017

Havana Black by Leonardo Padura

Havana Black by Leonardo Padura
First published in Spanish as Paisaje de Otono by Tusquets Editores in Spain in 1998. English language translation by Peter Bush published by Bitter Lemon Press in 2006.

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing
My 1990s read for my 2017-18 Decade Challenge

How I got this book:
Bought from a charity shop

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A brutally mutilated body is discovered washed up in the bay of Havana. The body of Miguel Forcade Mier, head smashed in by a baseball bat, genitals cut off by a dull knife. Forcade, once an official in the Cuban government responsible for the confiscation of the belongings of the bourgeoisie fleeing the revolution, was an exile in Miami. Had he really returned to Havana just to visit his ailing father? Conde immerses himself in the dark history of expropriations of works of art, paintings that have vanished without trace, corrupt civil servants and old families that lost much, but not everything. Here is the disillusion of Padura's generation, many of them veterans of the war in Angola, dealing with the catastrophe that followed the collapse of Russian aide in the 1990's and now discovering the corruption of those that preceded them. Yet a eulogy of Cuba, its life of music, sex and the great friendships of those who elected to stay and fight for survival.

I love when charity shop take-a-chance books turn out to be brilliant and that was certainly the case for me with Havana Black. This Cuban crime novel concentrates more on character relationships and portraying a changing Havana than on the mystery itself and I thought it was much the stronger for this. That's not to say the murder narrative is irrelevant - it drives the whole novel and is satisfying in itself, but I was fascinated by the actions and attitudes of the characters who found themselves caught up in Conde's investigation. Well, the male characters anyway. Women only exist here to provide food or sex interest and Padura's 'ripe fruit' metaphor is wearyingly overrused by the end of the book!

Havana Black is the second of a quartet of Mario Conde crime novels. Needless to say (if you follow my book reviews) I've started the series in the middle with no idea what happened before, but that didn't affect my enjoyment of this book. I think I spotted a couple of nods to a previous storyline. Ignorance of that didn't impinge on this novel though so I can happily recommend it as a standalone book. It's probably better suited to literary fiction fans than thriller aficionados and if you like fast-paced action, give it a miss. If thoughtful novels with a strong sense of place and history appeal to you though, Havana Black and others in the series could be worth a read.

Etsy Find!
by James Boast Art in
the UK

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Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Leonardo Padura / Crime fiction / Books from Cuba

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