Part biblio-mystery, part tragedy and all brilliant, Padura's follow-up to his Havana Quartet (Havana Gold, etc.) finds Mario Conde 14 years after retiring from the police force pursuing books instead of criminals, acting as a book scout to earn enough for food and drink. His famed intuition leads him to a decrepit mansion, its old and odd inhabitants, and to the most impressive private library ever assembled in Cuba, untouched for 43 years. Stuck in between a book's pages, he discovers a 1960 magazine photo of a sultry singer, Violeta del Río, who disappeared in the 1950s. Conde's curiosity turns to obsession as he tries to unravel Violeta's sad fate. The trail takes Conde into the past when Batista ruled, revolution was near and gangsters like Meyer Lansky oversaw casinos, clubs and brothels. It will also take him into the most dangerous and terrible of Havana's barrios. The glory of Cuba's biblio-history drives this exceptional novel. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Scorching novel from a star of Cuban fiction. The return of Mario Conde.
Ex-cop Mario Condo supports himself as a bookseller in Havana. When he finds a treasure trove of old valuable volumes in the mansion of a wealthy Cuban who had fled after the fall of Batista, an old newspaper clipping about a missing singer captures his fancy. Things turn ugly when the books' owner is murdered. Padura portrays the dark underbelly of today's Havana with insight and a deep sadness.
Jo Ann Vicarel
- Bitter Lemon Press, Ltd
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Mario Conde (the Count) has retired from the Police Force (where he was magnificently portrayed in Padura's Havana(s) Blue, Yellow, Red and Black (and Adios Hemingway) . a humanitarian and one of the common folk first, Conde is a lover of books. He's also a wannabe writer with a love-hate relationship with Ernest Hemingway (although in this adventure, Conde is obsessed with JD Salinger) and the wonderful protagonist of one of Cuba's most prized possessions, Leonardo Padura Fuentes and his Havana series of literary mysteries. I first met Mario Conde after picking up Havana Blue in a small bookstore in Greenwich Village. What a find. After reading less than half the book, I ordered the remainders and have since read each of them twice. Then, much like the Cuban "Crisis" described in Havana Fever (the ongoing lack of basic necessities), I experienced a drought of Padura until I was recently contacted to review his latest gift to readers everywhere. And a gift it is. It is now 2003 and Mario Conde is retired from official police work and has gone into the antique book buying/selling business to survive (literally to eat). During one of his daily slogs through the city trying to find books he might buy and then resell to others hawking books, he comes across a literal library of Cuban (and foreign) literary gold. The estate where he finds the library, the people inhabiting it and the history of all that has happened there is brought to life amidst the background of a 1950's mysterious bolero singer (Violeta del Rio), who may or may not have been semi-involved with Conde's father. Padura reacquaints his readers with Conde's friends, an eclectic cast of characters who also serve as his family. His best friend is Skinny Carlos (who is actually very much overweight and confined to a wheelchair from a war wound in Angola); Carlos's mom, Josefina, cooks them meals (born of the dollars from Conde's book business) which Padura describes with absolute teasing in mind (after reading Havana Black, my wife and I searched Brooklyn for Cuban cuisine) and trust me, the teasing works. After 6 Conde books I can still smell and nearly taste a simple cup of coffee because of the relevance Padura's characters assign it. After hearing Skinny Carlos call Conde a savage a few dozen times, I instantly felt at home with Conde's crew yet again and the adventure was on. I too wanted to know if Conde's father was connected with the mysterious singer; I too wanted to know what had happened to her. And when there's a murder and Conde is a suspect, the stakes were raised even higher. I won't give away spoilers, but I will recommend Havana Fever (and all the Havana's that came before it) to any readers interested in history, politics, art, current affairs, cooking, coffee and above all else, great literature. Padura is a Cuban treasure this reader can't get enough of. Much like Daniel Woodrell here in the states, Padura is perhaps more a literary writer than a crime fiction writer (if one needs to attach a genre). As a reader, I am at home in Padura's Cuba. As a writer, I am overwhelmed and most humbled. Havana Fever is another gem from a literary master.
In 2003, over a decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cubans, having lost its Russian subsidy, most live in abject poverty. In that environs, Mario Conde left the police department over fourteen years ago to follow a dream though he knows the state of the economy could sink his efforts to become a successful antiquarian book dealer. He loves looking at book treasures in personal libraries although he feels for the family forced to avoid starvation. He visits a dilapidated mansion that is home to starving siblings who must sell books they probably do not own; as the former wealthy patron most likely fled over decades ago to Florida. Conde is excited by the historical collection and tenderly looks at each volume. Inside one of the books, he finds a cut out of the Battista era bolero singer Violeta del Rio, which to his shock seems to possess Conde with a thirst to know the truth. Though warned to ignore his obsession, unable to resist, he needs to learn whether she killed herself in the 1950s as reported and how she is connected to the impoverished family who owns the collection. His inquiry takes an ironic lethal spin when one his hosts is murdered and the police suspect Conde. The latest Conde Havana investigative tale is a great entry in an excellent series. Although no longer a cop trying to bring justice in the corrupt Castro Communist Cuba as he did in his colorful four police procedurals, Conde cannot stop himself from applying those skills. Besides leading to a modern day homicide and threats to his life, the key to this terrific story line is a contrast between pre and post Fidel with the populace coming full circle back into abject poverty (as if the Castro years never happened; similar to the stock market and the Bush era). Harriet Klausner