(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie SEP 30, 2006)
Havana Red is so much more than a murder mystery - although it is an excellent example of the genre. Cuban author Leonardo Padura paints a realistic portrait of his lady love, the city of Havana, in this wonderful novel. He doesn't skimp on thrills and chills either!
What makes Havana Red so fascinating is that this ode is not to the glamorous vacation oasis of casinos, clubs, and luxury hotels that once brought the city fame. This is a paean, of sorts, to present day La Habana, with its crumbling post revolution colonial buildings which require more than a paint job to restore them to former glory; the winding streets filled with a most unique charm, although in need of repair; traffic jams caused by Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles from a 1958 time warp, Soviet-made Volgas and Ladas alongside newer Japanese Hyundais and Nissans with their cacophony of honking horns that work, amazingly, even with a lack of spare parts; the glorious Malecón, that famous avenue which runs along the seawall, where one can view the ever present Castillo del Morro in the distance. This is the tropical capital of Fidel's Cuba, a lusty city full of character and color, a strange mix of Europe, America, and Africa, a stalwart lady, though faded, who resonates with the syncopated beat of the rumba. Talk of politics is ever present here, despite what outsiders think. Cubans are difficult to repress. Complaints about life and lack of liberty are also prevalent, as well as a strange cynical acceptance about the way things are. This is a city that would still inspire Hemingway and Graham Green...just as it does Leonardo Padura.
Into this extraordinary environment steps Lieutenant Mario Conde, a Havana police detective who has been taken off suspended duty, (temporarily), to investigate the lurid murder of a transvestite who turns out to be the son of a prominent Cuban government official. In the process of solving the case, Sr. Padura exposes various societal subcultures, including that of the much persecuted and marginalized homosexual community. Conde, an astute man with a well developed sense of irony, seeks assistance from talented Alberto Marqués, a retired writer and theatrical director who was blacklisted during his artistic prime. The "Marquess," ("as his coteries entitled him"), his interaction with the detective and his reminiscences of Paris in his youth, are marvelously portrayed. Really strong writing here, quite poetic at times.
Leonardo Padura won Spain’s Dashiell Hammett Prize for Havana Red. He is regarded in Cuba as a national treasure...and rightly so. In an interview Padura stated: "I would prefer it if the novel is not read solely as the story of a dead transvestite and an old homosexual who helps a policeman uncover the truth, but as a metaphor for life in Cuba, a life in which the masks worn by people hide not only sexual differences but religious and social ideologies, considered sometimes inappropriate by the official orthodoxy."
- Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Vientos De Curaesma / Winds of Lent (2001)
Las cuatro estaciones / Four Seasons detective novels:
- Pasado perfecto / Havana Blue (1991; June 2007 in US)
- Vientos de cuaresma / Havana Gold (1994: 2008 in US
- Mascaras / Havana Red (1997; May 2005 in US)
- Paisaje de otoño / Havana Black (1997; June 2006 in US)
Also featuring lieutenant Mario Conde:
- The Story of My Life (2002)
- Faces of Salsa: A Spoken History of the Music
- Culture and the Cuban Revolution (with John M. Kirk) (2001)
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- Shots Mag interview with Leonardo Padura Fuentes
- Three Monkeys interview with Leonardo Padura Fuentes
- Political Affairs interview with Leonardo Padura Fuentes
- G.J. Demko's overview of crime fiction in Cuba
- BookSlut reivew of Adios, Hemingway
- Guardian Unlimited review of Havana Red and Havana Black
- The Independent review of Havana Black
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About the Author:
Leonardo Padura Fuentes was born in 1955 in Havana, Cuba. He earned his degree in Latin American literature at the University of Havana. He is one of Cuban's best known writers. He started out as an investigative reporter turned novelist. He is also an influential essayist and a screenplay writer.
He chooses to live in Cuba.