Sunday, 17 March 2013

Havana Fever - Leonardo Padura

Padura is a celebrated crime novelist in his native Cuba, now beginning to make a name in English.  He is published in the UK by Bitter Lemon Press, who specialise in noir from faraway places.

Let's be clear, this isn't serial-killer noir in the Nordic mode, nor a sly take on contemporary life through the lens of crime as, for example, the Montalbano series.  Frankly, if it wasn't for the fact that the protagonist is Count Mario Conde, hero of four earlier crime novels, it wouldn't be crime fiction at all.  Conde retired from the force a decade ago and now, at 48, is like Hakan Nesser's Inspector Van Veeteren, a dealer in old books.  He stumbles onto a fabulous private library and that leads him to investigate a forgotten bolero singer who made one record and vanished just after Castro's revolution.  The original owner of the library and Conde's late father both seem to have been besotted with her.  Ultimately, old crimes are linked to one contemporary crime but really Havana Fever is noir in its tone and in its preoccupations - clubs, jazz, nightlife, sex, corruption and people who turn to whatever means necessary to scrape a living.

The pace is slow, the characters and background incredibly deep and rich.  Everybody who crosses a page of Havana Fever has lived a life and has a story to tell.  It's the mystery of life as much as the mystery of Violeta del Rio.  I loved it.

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