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  • Reviews for Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura
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Reviews for Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura
2009's bumper crop of crime fiction.
'Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura (Bitter Lemon Press) Mario Conde has retired from the Havana police department and is buying and selling old books. He and a friend come across a gold mine to book lovers, a cache of more than 5,000 old books, many of which are first editions. Then Conde is on the trail of an old singer, Violeta del Rio. He will not rest until he finds out how and why she died. This is the best yet from an incredibly good writer.' - Chronicle Herald
'Cuba's history and landscape make it the perfect setting for a modern noir novel, and Padura takes advantage of all its steamy seediness to present the story of a hard-boiled ex-policeman who's trying to solve the fifty-year-old murder of a beautiful bolero singer.' - Living Abroad
'Leonardo Padura's Havana Fever, translated by Peter Bush and published by Bitter Lemon Press, is a very good book. Padura embeds a crime novel with resonances from Cuban history to Sophocles, from J.D. Salinger to Dickens and Dante. Padura uses his detective-hero Mario Conde from the Havana Quartet (plus Adios Hemingway) as a thread on which are hung several strains of Cuban history. Conde, now a used book dealer (really more of a book scout) discovers a valuable library in a decrepit mansion, and in one of the books there is a clipping about a bolero singer of the late 1950s who suddenly retired (after recording one 45 rpm record). Through the historical and rare books in the library (as Conde and his cohort go through them in order to make an offer to the owners) the colonial history of Cuba is told. Conde becomes fascinated with the bolero singer and her death, and through her Padura tells the story of Batista, the revolution, the mob-owned nightclubs, and the liveliness as well as the misery of the Cuban 1950s. As has been the case in the other Conde novels, the now-former detective and his expanded circle of friends are a collective device through which the history of post-revolutionary, post-Soviet, and contemporary Cuban history are told. And above all Havana, in its decaying glory, runs through everything. The novel is split in half, the first part corresponding to the A-side of the bolero singer's 45 and the second half corresponding to the B-side. But even more, the first half is Dickens and the second half is Dante. The crumbling mansion, the rich history of the old books, and the family dwelling in the house (aged brother and sister plus mad, ancient mother upstairs) are pure Victorian Gothic (there's even an epistolary thread running through the whole book and leading to the apprehension of the criminal). But a murder thrusts Conde back into an investigation that leads him into the Havana barrios where now drugs, gangsters, hookers, and despair reign as in a circle of hell. In both sections, the narrative has a despairing poetry beyond even that of the earlier Conde novels (which were themselves eloquently dark and poetic). The novel is fully a crime novel, but also an elegy for Havana and for Conde, whose trials and tragedies lead to a kind of catharsis and reconciliation that seems to mark the end of the series (I won't give away the ending, which is rooted not only in this novel but in earlier stories). It wouldn't be altogether necessary, though, to read the others in order to appreciate Havana Fever, which stands on its own, as crime fiction and as a powerful and evocative novel. Lest any of the above suggests a ponderous literary tome, rest assured that Padura's writing is accessible, his characters are vivid, and his storytelling laced with lively and even raunchy details of everyday life.' - Internationalnoir.blogspot
'Leonardo Padura's Havana Quartet was a valuable testimony to the poverty and despair afflicting the ordinary people of Cuba under Castro's regime. This autumnal coda to the series finds our hero Mario Conde no longer able to face working for the corrupt Havana police, making a paltry living as an antiquarian bookseller and becoming obsessed with the mysterious death in the Fifties of a beautiful bolero singer who had once enchanted his father. When one character sums up why boleros appeal to Cubans - the lyrics are "rather thickly laid on at times, but then we are thickly laid on " - it is tempting to apply the description to Padura's own style, which cold-blooded British readers may find too prone to self-conscious poeticism. But his depiction of the seductive and repellent aspects of Cuba is masterly, and his novels make me long to see Havana, while feeling thankful I don't live there.' - Daily Telegraph
'Leonardo Padura's latest novel, Havana Fever, is a cold-case investigation into the disappearance of a beautiful bolero singer forty-seven years prior to current events. Padura does a wonderful job of crafting the mystery. Clues are revealed gradually, building suspense and ultimately leading the reader to its dark but satisfying conclusion. Purely as a mystery novel, Havana Fever is top-notch and a terrific example of modern noir.
The real highlight of the book, though, is Padura's rich and evocative writing style. He brilliantly conjures up both the smoky nightclubs of Batista's Havana in the 1950s and the city's present poverty, comparing and contrasting the two different eras. Both are dark, gritty and rife with corruption. The modern scenes in particular are cloaked in an oppressive, unrelenting gloom that doesn't begin to lift until the book's final pages. The writing is almost poetic at times. This is one of those novels that one simply can't rush through; it must be savored.
"Not worried why he was doing so - and not really interested in finding out - perhaps driven by a mixture of alcohol and the persistent allure of certain phantoms and fascinations, Conde hailed a taxi going in the opposite direction to his house and asked the driver to take him to the corner of Twenty-Third and L, or any other street corner that might encompass the same evocative ciphers. He was pleased to see that even at that late, late, hour of the night, the fast-beating heart of the city was still packed with spaced-out youths and adults trawling for illicit offerings … Gays of every tendency and category, rockers with no stage or music, savage hunters and huntresses of foreigners and dollars, bored birds of the night with one, two and even three hidden agendas seemed anchored to that spot, not fearing the imminent dawn, as if hoping something out of the blue might drag them down the street, perhaps out to sea, or maybe up into the sky."
Havana Fever is the fifth novel to feature Mario Conde, a now-retired police inspector. Often, even sequels that stand well on their own leave the reader feeling like they've missed something, that they'd understand the novel better had they read the previous books first. This is not the case with Havana Fever, which is self-contained and relatively independent of the previous entries in the series.
Padura's only misstep is the story's pacing. The mystery and its investigation don't really get rolling until the novel's second half. While much of the narrative is necessary to really envelope the reader in the book's atmosphere, there's a lot here that feels superfluous and the exceptionally slow beginning may be enough to keep some readers from progressing beyond the first few chapters. In spite of this, I still rate Havana Fever a "5" out of 5 stars - readers who persist to the book's end will find it well worth their time. It's sure to appeal both to those who enjoy high-quality mysteries and those who are interested in reading about life in the steamy barrios of Havana past and present. - Bookbrowse
'HAVANA, 2003. It is 14 years since Mario Conde retired from the police force and much has changed in Cuba. He now makes a living, just, 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 a newspaper article about Violeta del Rio, a beautiful bolero singer of the 1950s, 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.
Havana Fever is the fifth, and undoubtedly the best, of Leonardo Padura's noir thrillers about book-loving Conde, "The Count", and his friends. He revels in the squalid struggle to survive in the Cuban capital following the collapse of the Soviet Union and therefore the withdrawal of its economic support for a country cut off by the US embargo. Padura also looks back to pre-revolution Cuba, evoking the Havana of Batista, the city of a hundred nightclubs where Hollywood stars and Mafia dons listened to boleros, mambos and jazz. As with his previous four Conde novels, Padura is a master at bringing the tropical island to life - the sweltering heat, the rhythms of its music, and the poverty among the once grand villas. This is a suspenseful crime novel, a cruel family saga and an ode to literature and his beloved, ravaged island.' - Newham and Ilford Recorder
'In Havana Fever , the Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura confirms his status as the finest crime-fiction writer in the Spanish language, a worthy successor to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. His detective, the intellectual Mario Conde, no longer on the city's force, earns a small living selling second-hand books. In one of the books he finds a faded cutting about a once-famous bolero singer from the 1950s, Violeta del Rio. Conde plays her only record over and over and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her; she suddenly disappeared, said to have committed suicide. One of the reclusive owners of the library he covets is murdered; his inquiries link the death to Violeta del Rio. Conde is a beautifully drawn three-dimensional character of emotional and sensual depth rarely encountered in crime fiction. Padura portrays today's sad, exciting, colourful, scary Cuba with passion, and wonderfully evokes the last days of the Batista dictatorship, its Mafia-linked glittering nightlife about to be crushed by Castro's revolution.' - Times
'Havana has changed in the latest addition to Leonardo Padura's growing series of detective novels about the Cuban capital featuring the enigmatic (and by now former) police inspector Mario Conde. The city is now awash with dollars, dealers and degenerates which the author skillfully uses to paint a picture of a society that has undergone a subtle and not entirely welcome transformation. The contemplative cop sets out to investigate the disappearance of a beautiful singer of the 1950s, allowing Havana Fever to evoke the Cuba of the former dictator Batista with all its moral flaws. Padura cut his teeth as a journalist and Havana Fever builds on the gritty and very real world featuring Conde carefully constructed in past novels such as Havana Gold. For sheer atmosphere, and his ability to introduce the reader to the Cuba of ordinary people, past and present, Padura is unequalled.' - Latin American Review of Books
'Those who are familiar with police-inspector Mario Conde, whose Cuban adventures are told by Leonardo Padura, will not be disappointed. "Havana Fever " is probably his best novel. It feels like a roman noir by James Ellroy, but set to a Havana rhythm, in search of lost time since the revolution.' - Le Point
'Ex-cop Mario Condo supports himself as a bookseller in Havana. When he finds a treasure trove of old valuable volumes in the mansion of a wealthy Cuban who had fled after the fall of Batista, an old newspaper clipping about a missing singer captures his fancy. Things turn ugly when the books' owner is murdered. Padura portrays the dark underbelly of today's Havana with insight and a deep sadness.' - Library Review
'Leonardo Padura's latest novel, Havana Fever, is a cold-case investigation into the disappearance of a beautiful bolero singer forty-seven years prior to current events. Padura does a wonderful job of crafting the mystery. Clues are revealed gradually, building suspense and ultimately leading the reader to its dark but satisfying conclusion. Purely as a mystery novel, Havana Fever is top-notch and a terrific example of modern noir.
The real highlight of the book, though, is Padura's rich and evocative writing style. He brilliantly conjures up both the smoky nightclubs of Batista's Havana in the 1950s and the city's present poverty, comparing and contrasting the two different eras. Both are dark, gritty and rife with corruption. The modern scenes in particular are cloaked in an oppressive, unrelenting gloom that doesn't begin to lift until the book's final pages. The writing is almost poetic at times. This is one of those novels that one simply can't rush through; it must be savored.
"Not worried why he was doing so - and not really interested in finding out - perhaps driven by a mixture of alcohol and the persistent allure of certain phantoms and fascinations, Conde hailed a taxi going in the opposite direction to his house and asked the driver to take him to the corner of Twenty-Third and L, or any other street corner that might encompass the same evocative ciphers. He was pleased to see that even at that late, late, hour of the night, the fast-beating heart of the city was still packed with spaced-out youths and adults trawling for illicit offerings … Gays of every tendency and category, rockers with no stage or music, savage hunters and huntresses of foreigners and dollars, bored birds of the night with one, two and even three hidden agendas seemed anchored to that spot, not fearing the imminent dawn, as if hoping something out of the blue might drag them down the street, perhaps out to sea, or maybe up into the sky."
Havana Fever is the fifth novel to feature Mario Conde, a now-retired police inspector. Often, even sequels that stand well on their own leave the reader feeling like they've missed something, that they'd understand the novel better had they read the previous books first. This is not the case with Havana Fever, which is self-contained and relatively independent of the previous entries in the series.
Padura's only misstep is the story's pacing. The mystery and its investigation don't really get rolling until the novel's second half. While much of the narrative is necessary to really envelope the reader in the book's atmosphere, there's a lot here that feels superfluous and the exceptionally slow beginning may be enough to keep some readers from progressing beyond the first few chapters. In spite of this, I still rate Havana Fever a "5" out of 5 stars - readers who persist to the book's end will find it well worth their time. It's sure to appeal both to those who enjoy high-quality mysteries and those who are interested in reading about life in the steamy barrios of Havana past and present.' - Bookbrowse
'He visits a dilapidated mansion that is home to starving siblings who must sell books they probably do not own; as the former wealthy patron most likely fled over decades ago to Florida. Conde is excited by the historical collection and tenderly looks at each volume. Inside one of the books, he finds a cut out of the Battista era bolero singer Violeta del Rio, which to his shock seems to possess Conde with a thirst to know the truth. Though warned to ignore his obsession, unable to resist, he needs to learn whether she killed herself in the 1950s as reported and how she is connected to the impoverished family who owns the collection. His inquiry takes an ironic lethal spin when one his hosts is murdered and the police suspect Conde.
The latest Conde Havana investigative tale is a great entry in an excellent series. Although no longer a cop trying to bring justice in the corrupt Castro Communist Cuba as he did in his colorful four police procedurals, Conde cannot stop himself from applying those skills. Besides leading to a modern day homicide and threats to his life, the key to this terrific story line is a contrast between pre and post Fidel with the populace coming full circle back into abject poverty (as if the Castro years never happened; similar to the stock market and the Bush era).' - MBR Bookwatch
'In our review of Padura's last Mario Conde novel (Havana Gold, 2008), we said that the series reads like an extended bolero, each part more moody and rum-soaked than its predecessor. It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that, in his latest adventure, Conde investigates the life and mysterious death of a bolero singer from the 1950s. The story begins in contemporary Cuba, awash now in tourists' dollars but still bearing the scars of the post-Soviet years, and extends back to the Batista era, when Havana was the city of 100 nightclubs. Conde, retired from the police and making a precarious living as an antiquarian book dealer, stumbles on a mother lode of rarities in the crumbling mansion of a brother and sister forced to sell their books to pay for food. Finding a yellowed newspaper clipping describing the allure of a bolerista called Violeta del Rio, Conde begins to investigate the singer's life, unlocking a closet stuffed with guilt, jealousy, and stifled rage. As always, Padura unrolls his tale in cascading waves of rambling, lyrical prose that will enthrall James Lee Burke fans just as it may deter those with more minimalist tastes.' - Booklist
'Purely as a mystery novel, Havana Fever is top-notch and a terrific example of modern noir. The real highlight of the book, though, is Padura's rich and evocative writing style. He brilliantly conjures up both the smoky nightclubs of Batista's Havana in the 1950s and the city's present poverty, comparing and contrasting the two different eras. Both are dark, gritty and rife with corruption. The modern scenes in particular are cloaked in an oppressive, unrelenting gloom that doesn't begin to lift until the book's final pages. The writing is almost poetic at times.' - Bookbrowse
'Ex-cop Mario Conde - a man with a talent for friendship, a penchant for rum, a streak of melancholia and a prescient nipple - is, like many in today's Cuba, earning his crust by trading in old books. In a crumbling Havana mansion he comes upon the fabulous library - guarded by a secretive elderly sister and brother - which belonged to a rich Cuban who fled the country after the fall of Batista. And in one of the old tomes Conde finds a newspaper article about Violeta de Rio, an enigmatic bolero star who abandoned singing and vanished at the pinnacle of her career. The pieces are in place for an intriguing exploration into the past. Then a murder takes place, and it's the present that becomes dark, gritty, mysterious.'
This is Padura - an occasional contributor to NI's View from the South - at his evocative best. Politically, he's a subtle novelist: he has stayed on the island he clearly loves. Any criticism of the Cuban system, both past and present, is implied in the stories told and the ways people find to survive. Little is lost in translation (from La Neblina de Ayer) thanks to the skill and dedication of Peter Bush. And, like the best, most haunting bolero, Havana Fever is liable to linger in the mind well after its final phrases.' - New Internationalist
'Rum and Memories. The distracted and insouciant cop is a staple of detective fiction. From Marlowe to Morse to Dave Robicheaux, police work is often depicted as no more than the background to some low-key personal subplots. Eventually, the investigation takes over, clues come to the fore, and the occupational enmities and domestic problems fall away. In Havana Fever, Leonardo Padura takes this to its limit, revisiting Mario ( "The Count ") Conde, fourteen years into his retirement, when the former inspector is gainfully employed as an antiquarian book dealer.
It is 2003, and following the collapse the USSR, Havana has entered what the regime refers to as the "special period ". For ordinary Cubans this means hunger, destitution and fatalism; for Conde, it is a depressing coda to a life of dashed hopes and a career that taught him little about morality and a lot about world-weariness. But he still cannot resist a mystery, and when he finds a newspaper cutting about a beautiful 1950s bolero singer tucked inside a book, his curiosity is piqued. Who was the singer? Why did she disappear so suddenly? Why did someone keep a record of the news of this disappearance? Then a murder takes place, and the Count is attacked for asking too many questions. Soon he finds he is spending more time with his former sidekick, Manolo, than is healthy for a man his age.
The novel hesitates before becoming a straight crime story. We have read more than a hundred pages before any detective work is required, and even then Conde is chasing vague instincts rather than material clues. Meanwhile, Padura evokes Batista's city of prostitution, cabarets, romance, and rank corruption. Central to the novel is the notion that, despite the efforts of the Castro brothers, and their clannish political aides over five decades, Cuba is doomed to rediscover its decadent soul.
Conde remains a poet and a dreamer, even while embracing the pragmatic cynicism necessary for survival in "the jungle of Creole life in the new millennium ". Skinny is still his one true friend, Josefine his adoptive mamita, and he still lives for long nights of good food, rum and reminiscence. Older, wiser and unemployed, he provides Padura with a means of telling the untold story of Havana, a city crushed by "historical exhaustion "-the tedium of being special. It is a fitting backdrop to a tale of love, music and murder stretching over the epoch of the revolution, and the detective plots reveals that police work is not merely a vocation but a metaphor for a futile yearning the solve the island's deepest crimes and misdemeanours. - Times Literary Supplement
'Overwhelmed by poverty after the collapse of Russian support, Cuba in this novel has record levels of suffering and crime. In Leonardo Padura's mystery, former detective Mario Conde has yielded to a mighty passion and become an antiquarian book dealer, investigating the libraries of collectors now forced to sell treasures. In a still-beautiful decaying mansion guarded by a half-starved brother and sister, he finds a superb assembly of works from Cuban history. Tucked inside one of the volumes he finds a cutting on the beautiful and mysterious Violeta del Rio, a bolero singer who had a wild success in pre-revolutionary Cuba. The Cuban bolero is powerful, passionate music, with lyrics drawn from the people. The reader will learn about its history, and how its flamboyant singers can age as richly as cognac.
Conde becomes infatuated with Violeta and a mystery surrounding her death. Why should anyone have committed suicide by swallowing cyanide in cough mixture? What was her connection with the aristocrats who owned this library? His police skills and contacts serve him well as he delves into 1950s Havana, its mobsters, drug-pushers and glamour, a period which still fascinates modern Cuban writers. Present danger looms, however, as Conde learns from an elderly journalist who tried to investigate Violeta's death and suffered a mutilated hand.
Conde gets beaten up. Dionisio, one of the weird guardians of the library, is murdered and some books are stolen. Conde's investigations lead him through ramshackle Havana slums and back to the strange mansion where he makes a horribly gothic discovery - and unmasks the real criminal.
Padura is remarkable among crime writers: he understands that the real job is to dive into the deep wells of obsession, hatred and poverty from which murder springs. Yet, full of atmosphere and descriptions to savour, this is as much a life-affirming tribute to Havana as a fine novel of death and detection.' - The Independent
'Mario Conde has retired from the police force of Havana. In 2003 he is making money working within the antique book trade. Modern Cuba it would seem is far from being the utopia dreamed of by the revolutionaries of the past and crime and corruption are rife. Life for ordinary Cubans is characterised by perpetual food shortages and many of the inhabitants of Havana including Conde himself live in a virtually perpetual state of hunger. When Conde discovers an incredible library of valuable books in the former home of a rich Cuban who left the country to live in America when Batista's regime was overthrown it seems that he has found the pot of gold he has been searching for at the end of the proverbial rainbow. Whilst searching through the books he discovers by chance an article regarding a singer of bolero's from the 1950's who vanished in strange circumstances called Violeta del Rio.
However, events take a turn for the worse when one of the guardians of the library is suddenly murdered and Conde finds himself cast in the unfamiliar role of suspect. In order to clear his name he must unravel a complex and tortured story that offers author Leonardo Padura the opportunity to explore the history and culture of Cuba and some of the darker aspects of life there after the revolution. The character of Mario Conde featured in Padura's Havana Quartet and it is interesting to follow his life in the city after leaving the police force. In many ways Havana Fever is the most mature and epic in scale of the series highlighting both the vitality and glamour of Havana whilst contrasting it with the poverty and privations that its population has also suffered particularly after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
Padura's Cuban noir manages to combine atmosphere, crime and dirt with an engaging and affecting overview of the history of Cuban publishing, surely an unusual achievement within the genre of crime fiction. Bawdy, colourful and moving Havana Fever comes highly recommended. Viva Havana.' - Crime Time
'Part biblio-mystery, part tragedy and all brilliant, Padura's follow-up to his Havana Quartet (Havana Gold, etc.) finds Mario Conde 14 years after retiring from the police force pursuing books instead of criminals, acting as a book scout to earn enough for food and drink. His famed intuition leads him to a decrepit mansion, its old and odd inhabitants, and to the most impressive private library ever assembled in Cuba, untouched for 43 years. Stuck in between a book's pages, he discovers a 1960 magazine photo of a sultry singer, Violeta del Río, who disappeared in the 1950s. Conde's curiosity turns to obsession as he tries to unravel Violeta's sad fate. The trail takes Conde into the past when Batista ruled, revolution was near and gangsters like Meyer Lansky oversaw casinos, clubs and brothels. It will also take him into the most dangerous and terrible of Havana's barrios. The glory of Cuba's biblio-history drives this exceptional novel.' (Starred review) - Publishers Weekly
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