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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Havana Red

Leonardo Padura

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Havana Red

Title: Havana Red
Author: Leonardo Padura
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 233 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Havana Red - US
Máscaras - US
Havana Red - UK
Havana Red - Canada
Havana Red - India
Électre à la Havane - France
Labyrinth der Masken - Deutschland
Maschere - Italia
Máscaras - España
  • Spanish title: Máscaras
  • Translated by Peter Bush

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Our Assessment:

B+ : atmospheric, but tries to do a bit much

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 14/7/2006 Florian Borchmeyer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 30/6/2005 Knut Henkel
The NY Times Book Rev. . 14/8/2005 Marilyn Stasio

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der scheinbare Unterhaltungs- erweist sich als subtiler Schlüsselroman, als eine Chronik der revolutionären Kulturpolitik, in welcher der eingeweihte Leser die wichtigsten Protagonisten der kubanischen Geistesgeschichte des vergangenen halben Jahrhunderts wiederfinden wird -- verkleidet, aber dennoch erkennbar." - Florian Borchmeyer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Although the florid style (reflected in the translation by Peter Bush) puts a chokehold on the action, it suits the central character" - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Havana Red is the summer-episode of Padura's four-season 'Havana quartet' introducing Detective Lieutenant Mario Conde. Oddly, it is the first volume in the quartet available in English translation, but appears to be the third in the series. As the book begins with Conde relegated to desk duty after "his public punch-up with Lieutenant Fabricio" three months earlier (presumably in the 'spring' volume (Vientos de cuaresma)) it's clear that English-speaking readers are missing quite a bit of the character build-up that obviously took place in the preceding volumes -- something that is noticeable throughout this book. (It can stand on its own, too, but there seems to be more to Conde, and the earlier books likely helped flesh out the character better than jumping aboard here allows for.)
       (At this time -- fall, 2006 -- only the subsequent 'autumn' volume of the quartet, published as Havana Black, has been made available; the first two volumes are still missing in English.)

       Conde -- known as the Count -- is rather nostalgic as the book opens, unsure he's chosen the right path, comparing his life to what became of his childhood buddies (and remembering what good times they used to have). But the past can't be recaptured: one of the first scenes has him wanting to join a pick-up baseball game with some youngsters, but he realises quickly that it's not his place. He's only in his mid-thirties, but the police career is only partially satisfying (and certainly less so when he's stuck behind a desk). In fact, he used to have literary aspirations -- and, indeed, still harbours some.
       Padura does a decent job with Conde's visits to old friends and musings about his life, but a detective has to be doing some investigating, so, conveniently, his boss calls him in and tells him:

You made life really difficult. Well, the problem is I don't have enough detectives and I've got no option but to lift the sanction on you temporarily. I need you and Sergeant Manuel Palacios to get a hold on this case immediately: a transvestite who's been killed in the Havana Woods.
       It needs to be handled carefully: the victim turns out not to have been a transvestite, but was a homosexual -- much to the chagrin of his very prominent father, Faustino Arayán, "Cuba's latest representative at UNICEF". The case leads Conde into two very different milieus -- and specifically two very different households: privileged Arayán's, and that of renowned but disgraced artist Aberto Marqués (himself a "hugely experienced, predatory homosexual").
       Conde finds himself very intrigued by Marqués, realising also that by not becoming a writer he's missed out on a world of culture that he would have felt very comfortable in (but maybe it's not too late ...). Marqués also introduces him somewhat to the transvestite scene, and though it's a woman Conde goes home with he finds it all more intriguing than his general attitude towards homosexuals (he's not a fan) would have led him to believe.
       Havana Red is a Cuban police procedural, with Conde very much acting on his own. He pieces it all together, but much of how he goes about it seems more for his own personal satisfaction than to get straight to the heart of the matter. But his method works, as he untangles the messy crime.
       Along the way there are a few discursions: Marqués opens up (revealing parts of Cuba's ugly recent history) -- and so does Conde, to some extent. Most of all, there's a lot of Havana, and the different circles Conde comes in touch with, from the criminal to the devout to the privileged. There's a lot about the hardships of life in Cuba, too: the shortages (including quality cigars and coffee), corruption, as well as some of the repression (specifically the 1971 crack-down in which Marqués got caught up). Certainly one gets a good feel for what appears to be a very creaky place, just holding together, with a variety of odd rules but in which people get by. Among the remarkable aspects is the extent to which the illicit is presented, from the criminal scene to the homosexual scene -- both of which come off looking far more sympathetic than, for example, the official Writers' Union .....
       Reflecting the fact that Conde isn't quite sure what he wants to do with his life, the book too drifts somewhat uneasily about, and Conde remains as central as any crime does: even more than similar investigator-focussed novels (Chandler, Rankin) it's very much a character study. It's successful enough, too, as is the vivid portrait of Havana on offer (and the commentary on cultural politics throughout the Castro era) -- but it still feels only partial. Perhaps a quarter of the big picture .....

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Havana Red: Reviews: Leonardo Padura Fuentes: Other books by Leonardo Padura Fuentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Cuban author Leonardo Padura Fuentes was born in 1955.

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© 2006-2017 the complete review

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