Sunday, July 6, 2008

Review of Havana Gold

The final novel in Leonardo Padura’s Havana Quartet to be translated into English, Havana Gold, is, like the other books in the series, a book with a mystery in the background and the life of Lieutenant Mario Conde in the foreground. Padura’s outings with Conde (There are five. Don’t let the fact that four of them are labeled a quartet throw you.) are only police procedurals in the loosest sense of the term. The crimes committed change throughout them, but Conde and his friends and coworkers remain a constant presence, changing over time, and they are the center of the story. It probably has not helped that Padura’s novels have not been translated into English in order. Adios Hemingway, the fifth Conde novel, was translated first, and Havana Gold (Winds of Lent or Lenten Winds in Spanish) is the second book in the series is billed as the fourth book in translation because that was the order of publication. Confusing people by presenting these books out of order is not doing the author or readers any favors.

In this entry in the series, Conde catches the murder of a young teacher at his old high school. She is found strangled in her apartment. There’s a joint in the ashtray, expensive clothes in the closet, and neighbors report hearing a loud party the evening before she is found. The deceased is a member in good standing of The Party and, as such, the powers that be are anxious to solve her murder with a minimum of fuss. The dead woman is, of course, not what she seems, and the more Conde digs the more corruption he uncovers.

Mixed in with the investigation is a romance, as Conde falls for a woman he meets on the street and helps change a tire. This interlude provides an opportunity for some purple prose, and it’s hard to know whether to lay blame for this at Padura’s feet or those of Peter Bush, who has translated all of Padura’s novels. Regardless of who is responsible, some of the sex scenes are unintentionally funny.

Sex scenes aside, Padura’s usual sense of melancholy and his love for Havana is on full display, although he has used it to better effect in other novels. Havana Gold is not a starting point, or an ending to the series, despite what the copy on the novel’s cover says, and readers interested in Padura’s work should start with Havana Blue, which is the first novel to feature Conde, and a superior work.

1 comment:

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

New readers should definitely start with HAVANA BLUE. I picked up HAVANA BLACK first, but ended up putting it down because I could tell I'd missed out on too much backstory.