Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura

Havana, 2003, fourteen years since Mario Conde retired from the police force and much has changed in Cuba. He now makes a living trading in antique books bought from families selling off their libraries in order to survive. In the house of Alcides de Montes de Oca, a rich Cuban who fled after the fall of Batista, Conde discovers an extraordinary book collection and, buried therein, a newspaper article about Violeta del Rio, a beautiful bolero singer of the 1950’s, who disappeared mysteriously. Conde’s intuition sets him off on an investigation that leads him into a darker Cuba, now flooded with dollars, populated by pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and other hunters of the night. But this novel also allows Padura to evoke the Havana of Batista, the
city of a hundred night clubs where Marlon Brando and Josephine Baker listened to boleros, mambos and jazz. Probably Padura’s best book, Havana Fever is many things: a suspenseful crime novel, a cruel family saga and an ode to literature and his beloved, ravaged island.

Review

Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura is the story of former detective Mario Conde, whose passion for books leads him to investigate two murders linked by ghosts from the past. 

This is best described as a slow burn, the story evolving within a very character driven narrative.  If you enjoy books that read like a ride on a helter-skelter than this book is probably not for you, because this is story where character and landscape are predominant. So perfectly written that you feel that you are walking the streets of Havana with Detective Condo. The shape of the landscape helping to form both Condo’s character and the story itself.  It not only defines those that live within the story, but defines the life they live. Condo and others who live on the island of Cuba are isolated from the world around them and live daily on the brink of poverty and starvation, making total sense of this tale of people so desperate to escape grinding poverty that they will kill to protect honour, life and liberty.   The sense of isolation heightens sense of claustrophobia, created not just by the island setting, but by Cuba’s fractured links not just with the world around it, but between those that live on it’s shores.  The writer using it to show that unity and balance are out of kilter, driving those already desperate, to kill characters, that threaten their very survival. It all feels contained, in that the narrative is never left to the vagaries of endless twists and turns, but simmers slowly like the heat of the Cuban landscape, the pressure growing slowly, violence is always present, often in the background, other times it is so present that it adds an added layer of tension to the simmering violence always sat there in the background.

The characterization is really good. Detective Condo and a wealth of flamboyant supporting characters reflect the multi-cultural nature of Havana and the melting pot created from such a passionate and colourful culture. Condo himself comes across as caring, passionate and troubled, yet he always thinks of his friends, no matter how much money he has. It makes him very loveable, and I found myself enjoying the book because I like this character so much.  I loved how clever he is, but how the writer created a much more rounded character by showing that his passion to know the truth sometimes blinds him to the faults in others. He is a strong enough character to hold this story together and made me as a reader want to emerge myself in the story.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon and Waterstones

About the author

Leonardo Padura was born in 1955 in Havana and lives in Cuba. He is a novelist, essayist, journalist and scriptwriter. Havana Fever has been published in Cuba, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Germany and France.

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