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Fascinating tale with 1980's Cuba as a background!
on June 29, 2014
Anti-hero, Lieutenant Mario Conde of the Havana Police Department, known as "the Count," is suffering from a terrible New Year's Eve hangover. It is now New Year’s Day, 1989, and the Lieutenant thought he would have a long weekend free from work to recover. Wrong! Conde is sleeping it off when the phone rings loudly in his ear making the sound of a jackhammer sound like a lullaby. He is ordered, with urgency, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Rafael Morin, chief of the Import and Export Company in the Ministry of Industry.The detective is given three days, max, to solve the case. Conde remembers Morin from their student days: "good-looking, brilliant, a reliable comrade who always got what he wanted," including Tamara, Morin's widow, and a girl Conde and his friends fantasized about back in high school. During the course of the investigation, the Lieut. discovers that Rafael Morin's rapid rise from a barrio kid to a wealthy businessman, (communist version - not that different from the capitalist version), holds at least one secret worthy of investigation. While pursuing the mystery in the decaying city of Havana, Conde confronts Tamara Morin. While working hard on this case, (3 days is not a long time), Conde has to deal with the girl of his dreams along with the dreams and the illusions of his youth.
Rafael Morín considered “an immaculate trustworthy comrade” had been reported missing by his wife the day before. It is inconceivable that Morin would defect, after all, a man in his position, has the opportunity to travel outside of Cuba frequently and thus, no reason to try to sail to the US in a rickety boat. The Count and his assistant Sergeant Manuel Palacios set out to interview the likely people who had last seen Rafael. Set in Havana, the story deals, cynically, with the corruption, control and massive disparities in wealth that make up the country. Conde works to find the truth about his comrade of old, (now a hero), who may not be all he appeared to be. The books cuts back and forth between Conde’s memories of high school and the present as he tries to figure out if the too-good-to-be-true Rafael Morin is really the upright comrade everyone says he is.
The rich characterizations and bittersweet remembrances of the good old days, 20 years before, play as great a role in the book as the investigation of a missing man...a very important missing man. Havana and Cuban politics are effectively woven into the story, as part of the atmosphere. Our protagonist is a bit of a loner who has a pet fish. The fish is probably all he can handle relationship-wise.
Padura uses the elements of a police procedural to criticize the political and social structures of the society in which the action takes place. "Havana Blue," is the first of the Cuban author's "Four Seasons Quartet" set in Havana in 1989. ( the title is from the English edition). The 3 other books in the series are: "Havana Gold," "Havana Red," and "Havana Black." The translator, Peter Bush, does a remarkable job of bringing the flavors, sounds and people of Havana to life. In Padura’s quartet, the plot is of relatively minor importance, although it certainly kept my attention. The author uses the narrative to provide a portrait of Havana and its people under a totalitarian regime that only allows the most basic forms of freedom. The rich characterizations and bittersweet remembrances of old times, 20 years ago, play as great a role in the book as the investigation. Havana and Cuban politics are effectively woven into the story, as part of the atmosphere.
I found "Havana Blue" hard to put down. It would make a terrific beach read.