Havana Best Friends

Havana Best Friends

by Jose Latour


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Canadian debut publication by one of the Spanish-speaking world’s top crime-fiction writers Elena Miranda and her brother, Pablo, have lived in the same spacious Havana apartment since they were children, not knowing that a $10-million treasure in diamonds is hidden behind a tile in their bathroom. Now the son of the man who buried them there wants them, and he knows the ideal person for the job: his ruthless former comrade-in-arms during the Vietnam War.

Equipped with a Spanish-speaking “wife” and Canadian passports, the vet flies to Cuba to sweet-talk his way into Elena and Pablo’s lives and get his hands on the diamonds. But Cuba has a way of confusing even the best-laid plans, and soon the treasure hunters find themselves being hunted.

A complex, hard-boiled novel of betrayal, deceit, and cunning, Havana Best Friends takes place in a Cuba that tourists rarely see. Stunning plot twists rocket the story forward, but not once does the action overpower the story’s heart — the emotional lives of the people whose worlds are changed forever by these so-called best friends.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780771046605
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Publication date: 02/21/2006
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.68(w) x 8.36(h) x 0.87(d)

About the Author

José Latour’s novels have been published in Britain, the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Brazil and the Netherlands. He is a former vice president of the Inter-national Association of Crime Writers. In 2002, he left Cuba for Spain and immigrated to Canada in the fall of 2004. He lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt

The most remarkable feature of the Parque de la Quinta, in Havana’s posh Miramar suburb, is the full­grown, sixty-­foot ficus trees. Their numerous hanging vines reach the public park’s red clay, dig into it, grow roots, and form dozens of slender trunks around the main one. Nature-­loving tourists coasting along Fifth Avenue in their rentals frequently slow down to gape at them, then risk a traffic ticket by parking next to the curb to photograph or videotape themselves next to the vegetal giants.

When that happens, the police officer standing under a metallic sunshade by the gleaming white residence of the Belgian ambassador to Cuba, a restored mansion on the corner of Fifth and 24th Street, usually says into the transceiver mounted on his left shoulder something like, “41 to 04. A 314 on Fifth between 24th and 26th. Plate T-­00357,” then waits to see whether a cop in a nearby squad car will arrive and slap a fine on the violator. But on this Friday morning, the young cop had been ogling a woman jogging around the park and ­didn’t report the black Hyundai that had illegally pulled over on Fifth and discharged a tall, overweight man.

The jogger’s blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail that reached below her shoulders and swayed gracefully as she ran. A light-­green sweatshirt covered a skimpy bra in which were nestled small breasts; black Lycra leggings hugged ample round hips and well-­proportioned thighs; cotton socks and sneakers completed her apparel. The cop ­wasn’t paying attention to her long eyebrows, honey-­coloured eyes, straight nose, or thin lips; he was focusing on her behind — not as hefty as he preferred. “Nice temba,” he said, using the Cuban slang for an attractive woman in her late thirties or early forties.

The cop thought that her rangy escort, a few yards behind, looked like a middle-­aged scholar who had decided to exercise on a regular basis only after intellectualizing the benefits involved, an impression enhanced by his innocent-­looking blue eyes and clean-­shaven face. Six or seven inches taller than her five-­feet-­four, he had short copper-­coloured hair partially hidden by a white bandana. A purple sweatshirt covered his flat chest and belly; hairy legs showed under his baggy brown shorts. His feet, shod with Reeboks and lacking socks, revealed bony ankles.

The joggers turned on the corner of 24th and continued their fourth lap on the sidewalk along Fifth. Perspiration glistened on their faces, darkened the cloth under their armpits. Their skin, where visible, was quite rosy.

This made the cop assume the joggers were 611s, the code for aliens. In Havana, among white people, at a glance and from a distance, a suntan frequently sets locals apart from foreigners. Particularly in Miramar, where embassies and the offices of multinationals are flanked by private homes, it’s not easy to surmise who is or ­isn’t a native.

Clothing is not an infallible clue. Most Cubans dress modestly, but the number of those in fashionable sportswear and flashy running shoes — the dress favoured by many tourists — grows steadily as remittances from Cubans living abroad increase year after year. Red or rosy skin is a more reliable indication.

Few of the sun’s rays filtered through the park’s dense foliage canopy and reached the soil, where spots of lawn survived precariously alongside fine gravel. Dead leaves were being raked by a gardener. The scent of dew and plants was overpowered by the exhaust fumes from the steady stream of vehicles speeding along. Sparrows and grackles pecking close to the sinuous walkways fluttered to the safety of branches and twigs when pedestrians got too close. A thirty-­foot pergola was being swept clean by an old woman who resembled Warty the witch, minus cat and hat.

The couple ran past the bust of General Prado, the nineteenth-­century Peruvian president who favoured the independence of Cuba, and rounded the sidewalk at the corner of 26th. This was the third consecutive morning they’d exercised in the park between 7:45 and 8:15, give or take a couple of minutes. Across the street, the Catholic church of Santa Rita de Casia already had its doors open.

The joggers rounded the corner of 26th and stared down Third A, a curved street. The three young men shooting the breeze on the corner and the tall, overweight man contemplating a monument to Mahatma Ghandi behind the pergola eyed the couple curiously when the man slowed down, stopped, bent over, and grabbed both knees. The woman glanced over her shoulder, reduced her speed, and came to a halt. He hunkered down. She retraced several steps, rested her left hand on his back, and talked to him with a look of concern.

The man nodded before straightening up. Both were trying to get their breathing back to normal. She said something, looking at a three-­storey apartment building across the street. He shook his head, but then grabbed her shoulder, as if for balance. She steered him toward the apartment building, eyebrows knitted in a frown.

The concrete-­and-­block cube, numbered 2406, was a six-­unit — three facing the street, three at the back — built in the 1950s. Painted light grey, it was flanked on one side by a lot where the foundation for a new building was being dug, and on the other by a house with a red-­tile roof. It looked out of place in this neighbourhood of older buildings. Three balconies with French windows, one on each floor, faced the street.

Inside the apartment building, the woman pressed the buzzer alongside the sole door on the ground floor. Nearly a minute went by before it was opened by a tall, good-­looking woman wearing a white short-­sleeved blouse, a dark-­green knee-­length skirt, and high heels.

“Sí?” the surprised resident asked, her left eyebrow arched.

“I’m so sorry to inconvenience you,” the female jogger said, also in Spanish. “My name’s Marina. This is my husband, Sean. We were jogging in the park and . . . his vision blurred, he felt dizzy. From the heat, you know. Canadians are not accustomed to this temperature. Could you offer him a glass of water, please? We forgot to bring some with us.”

For a moment the woman stared at the man. He seemed exhausted, an embarrassed flicker of a smile on his lips. “Sure, come on in,” she said, stepping back and pulling the door wide open.

Marina and Sean entered a spacious living room in a deplor­able condition. A chesterfield with overstuffed arms and two matching club chairs were badly frayed and stained. At some point the cedar coffee table had lost its glass top and now showed multiple water rings; on it was an ashtray full of reeking butts. The drapes framing the French window to the balcony, like the shades of the two floor lamps, were also soiled. A solitary light bulb hung from the ceiling, and the cream-­coloured vinyl paint on the walls was beginning to flake off.

“Take a seat, please,” the hostess said. “I’ll get some water.”

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Havana Best Friends 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
KVM More than 1 year ago
Found this book and as soon as I read the first page I was hooked. What a great suspense filled crime story, it is set in Havana Cuba and is sell well written I feel as if I should have a sun burn after spending so many hours in the Cuba sun! It is the perfect robbery, not much could go wrong right? You too will be hooked by this books as it takes you into the underworld of Havana, you see how things "really" work in Cuba! YES, I recommend this product.