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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Havana Black

Leonardo Padura

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To purchase Havana Black

Title: Havana Black
Author: Leonardo Padura
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 261 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Havana Black - US
Paisaje de otoño - US
Havana Black - UK
Havana Black - Canada
Havana Black - India
L'Automne à Cuba - France
Das Meer der Illusionen - Deutschland
Paesaggio díautunno - Italia
Paisaje de oto&ntilced;o - España
  • Spanish title: Paisaje de oto&ntilced;o
  • Translated by Peter Bush

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid Cuban police procedural, nice ending to Conde's police-career

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian C+ 15/4/2006 Laura Wilson
The Independent . 6/4/2006 Jane Jakeman
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 9/5/2006 Knut Henkel
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/6/2006 Marilyn Stasio
The Observer B 23/4/2006 Peter Guttridge
Sunday Telegraph . 9/4/2006 Susanna Yager
The Times . 22/4/2006 Marcel Berlins
TLS B- 2/6/2006 Danny Leigh

  Review Consensus:

  Overwritten, but of some interest

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A)n unsentimental portrait of a generation that feels that its revolutionary ideals have been betrayed, and Conde himself is a pleasantly sardonic character. However, convoluted sentences, sometimes running to as many as 20 lines, make this a wearying read. The baroque lyricism of the prose may be wonderful in its original Spanish, but in English it often comes across as having been laid on with a trowel. The story is a strong one, but you can't help feeling that it would have been better told in fewer words." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Padura's satisfying narrative delves deep into Conde's world and into the stories of his friends and colleagues. Hanging over the book is an oppressive tension; Cuba is waiting for a hurricane. Conde needs to get his story sorted out before the storm hits -- not just the crime, but the fictional narrative at which he bangs away on an old typewriter. (...) This is a strong-tasting book, a rich feast of wit and feeling." - Jane Jakeman, The Independent

  • "Although Lt. Mario Conde, known on the street as "the Count," is prone to metaphysical reflection on the history of his melancholy land, the city of Havana keeps bursting through his meditations, looking very much alive." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "For an author who lives in Castro's Cuba, Padura is remarkably outspoken about the failings of the sociopolitical experiment that Castro put in place. This rich setting and the novel's striking central character make Padura, if not thrilling, still a good read." - Peter Guttridge, The Observer

  • "Conde's unorthodox style of investigation uncovers the motive for the crime in the island's colourful history, but it also shows us much about today's Cuba, a society struggling to survive in post-revolution decay and disillusion." - Susanna Yager, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Padura is intent on telling us a great deal about Cuban life, politics, society, culture and recent history, which he does with elegance and charm. There is a tendency to wordiness but donít be put off. The extra effort is worth it." - Marcel Berlins, The Times

  • "The novel's most effective moments are those indicting the failures and compromises of the Cuban Revolution. Padura is rarely forgiving. Oily technocrats, and veterans of the Angolan civil war alike few remain untainted. (...) Away from his rage, however, Padura can be less absorbing. The splay-legged machismo that informs much of the writing creates a vividly musky account of Cuban manhood; it is a world in which Padura can seem too uncritically comfortable." - Danny Leigh, Times Literary Supplement

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 Black is the final volume of Padura's 'Havana quartet' (though only the second to be published in English translation ...). Lieutenant Mario Conde's boss, Major Antonio Rangel, has been ousted, and that's the final stroke for him. He's been meaning to quit and follow his first passion, writing, for ages anyway. He's signed and tendered his resignation -- but Rangel's successor, Colonel Alberto Molina, has other ideas.
       There's been an inconvenient murder: a Cuban with US citizenship, returning to the island for the first time in years, is found dead, his head bashed in, his penis and testicles cut off. The victim, Miguel Forcade Mier, used to be deputy head of the Provincial Office for Expropriated Property -- a position which meant that many valuable goods went through his hands, and he helped decide what happened to them.
       Is it a crime of passion ? Or revenge for something that happened decades earlier, when Forcade was last on the island (and wielded such power) ? Molina thinks Conde is just the man for the case, and he dangles it in front of him, promising he'll sign Conde's release from the police if he takes the case -- and noting that otherwise it might take him months to get around to it.
       There's more to the mix: the case has to be (re)solved within three days -- and all the while Hurricane Felix is bearing down on the island ..... And to add to Conde's mid-life crisis, his birthday -- his 36th -- is also around the corner.
       Conde is assisted by his trusty "companion in detection", Sergeant Manuel Palacios, but he has his own style. He also got carte blanche from Molina to handle the case however he thinks best.
       Conde likes to talk to all those concerned with a case, and it allows him to see how Havana's privileged (and formerly privileged) live. For one, there's the guy with what is apparently a Matisse -- the only one on the whole island -- hanging in his house. And it's clear there are also other hidden treasures (and motives) elsewhere .....
       Havana Black is a satisfying procedural, with a nice mix of characters, offering a good sense of some of the corruption that existed and exists in Cuba, as well as Conde's own search for meaning in life. Heavy on the Havana atmosphere (to which the threat of Felix certainly adds), and with a solid portrait of a man torn between detective-work (which he's very good at) and writing (about which he's not at all self-confident) -- as well as a decent little mystery with quite a few creepy characters to go around -- Havana Black is an enjoyable read, and makes for a nice conclusion (for now, anyway) to Conde's police career.

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Havana Black: 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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