Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review of Havana Fever

Leonardo Padura has brought Havana detective Mario Conde back for another investigation. In Havana Fever (Bitter Lemon Press, 2009), the retired policeman is working as a used book dealer in Havana when he uncovers the mysterious disappearance of a young jazz singer that occurred in pre revoultion Cuba. In the heart of a library full of priceless books in a crumbling mansion, Conde unearths an article about Violeta del Rio, a forgotten singer, and his curiosity gets the better of him, but his search turns out to have unexpected consequences, and he and his business partner are soon murder suspects.

Padura's novels have never exactly been fast paced, but Havana Fever is slow even by Padura's standards. Padura lovingly renders Havana, and he brings back the ususal cast of characters, but the price of this dilligence is a that the novel takes a hundred pages to even get off the ground. Padura has always been about atmosphere, but in this case the atmosphere starts to interfere with the pacing, making it a slog at times.

Strip away some of the asides, however, and there's still a solid story there, even if the author inisists on dragging it out. As Conde digs deeper into the mystery of Violeta's disappearance, he comes into conflict with the police department he once worked for and his old assistant Manuel Palacios, who now has Conde's old job, and sends him on a tour of a crumbling society that inspires much soul searching and disillusionment with contemporary Cuban society and what the revolution has wrought.

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