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  • Reviews for Havana Gold by Leonardo Padura
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Reviews for Havana Gold by Leonardo Padura
'Cuban police detective Mario "The Count " Conde still feels "solidarity with writers, crazy people, and drunkards, " but his melancholy seems to be seeping even deeper into his soul in this fourth installment of Padura's Havana Quartet. The existential angst that grips the Count is only aggravated by concern for his wheelchair-bound best friend, the 300-pound "Skinny, " and frustrations with his latest case, the murder of a 26-year-old teacher at Conde's former high school. But that's before he meets a sultry, redheaded saxophone player with "legs like Corinthian columns. " Trouble? Of course, but it's such sweet sorrow. Padura's lush, free-flowing prose seems overwrought now and then, but it is the perfect vehicle to describe both the crumbling elegance of Havana and the tortured emotional agonies of a hopelessly romantic yet terminally morose hero. The four Conde novels read as a kind of four-part bolero, each more moody and rum-soaked than its predecessor. For hard-boiled fiction fans who are soft-boiled at heart-and who can'tget enough of Debussy, Ravel, and Frank Sinatra singing "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning".' - Booklist
'Inspector Mario Conde of the Cuban police has his head full of thoughts of two women: one is a corpse whose brutal murder he is having to investigate, and the other is a saxophone playing beauty he has met by chance and fallen instantly in love with. Against the heat, history and polarised society of Havana, he tries to keep his mind on the job and finds the dead teacher has a wardrobe full of clothes out of reach of her salary, there was the sound of partying the night before her death and cannabis flushed down her toilet. She has a dodgy former boyfriend, several other men in her life and students who liked her perhaps too much. Plus she taught at his former school, so it brings back ghosts every time he has to visit. But as usual Conde finds time to visit his old neighborhood mates for too much rum, plan his thwarted career as a writer and fit in hot sex with his new girlfriend-who is also too mysterious for comfort. As with the other novels in the Conde series, it has great atmosphere and characters with lives shaped by their country, plus a plot that keeps you guessing. Another winner.' - Coventry Telegraph and Warwickshire Telegraph
'As gritty as the Lenten winds that sweep across Cuba every spring, this detective story finds Police Lieutenant Mario Conde investigating the death of twenty-four year old Lissette Delgado. The teacher, apparently well liked by her students had been beaten, raped and strangled in her apartment. Conde immediately begins wondering how Lissette was able to afford the obviously expensive clothes found in her closet. Although Conde finds himself pressured to quickly wrap up the case, several factors continue to plague him, not the least being the discovery of pot in Lissette's apartment and the possible role some of her students may have played in her life and subsequent murder.
Throughout the investigation, Conde follows his desire for love with a romantic affair with the beautiful if enigmatic Karina. Not only is Karina intelligent, she plays the saxophone with a flare, loves jazz and shares his passion for fighting fish. Unfortunately, Karina also has secrets, one of which will throw Conde for a loop and leave him alone once again. Can he unravel the tangle of drugs, sex, black market trade and stolen goods before rivals within the department get him thrown off the force and how far into the rum bottle will he crawl when the truth about Karina is revealed.
A stark, uncompromising look at Cuban life with its corruption and crumbling infrastructure alongside great beauty and zest, this is a different take on the murder mystery genre. Conde makes a likeable if irascible character, defined largely by his enduring friendships and dry humor in the face of hardship. The tight, descriptive storyline draws readers into Havana's heat, dirt and incessant spring winds making for a respectable read that will likely win more fans of the series.' - Monsters and critics.com
'In 1989 Cuban police detective Mario Conde hates being a cop as he would have preferred to be a writer. However, no matter how he tries to romanticize his existence, he must eat and so cop he is. Drinking helps him when state sponsored corruption interferes with his investigation. His current case makes him want to quit in order to turn into a 24/7 alcoholic. Someone murdered pretty Pre-University High School schoolteacher, Lissette Nunez Delgado. This particular inquiry hits home as Conde went to school here when he dreamed of becoming a Cuban Hemingway. As he interviews the headmaster, staff and pupils, Conde wonders what happened to his dreams and those of his countrymen. The fourth Havana police procedural is a great tale (likes its colorful predecessors) that follows one year in the life of a dedicated cynical Cuban cop. The story line is fast-paced as Conde investigates the murder of a young popular teacher, but runs into bureaucracy from the school and his superiors. However, the key to this saga remains the disenchanted hero who struggles to do his job properly, which to him means solving the case, but to others connotes satisfying the state and the Party.' - MBR Bookwatch
Padura's Havana Quartet is a seasonal series, each season literally sweeping in, often with weather extremes; so also in Havana Gold, which begins: " It was Ash Wednesday and, eternally punctual, a parched, choking wind swept through the barrio stirring up filth and sorrow, as if sent straight from the desert to recall the Messiah's sacrifice ".
It's all about the mood, and the mood is always the same, Mario Conde nostalgic and wondering what's become of him and all his friends as all their childhood dreams have faded (which seems to weigh on him far more than on them). "You're always bloody remembering", one of his friends tells him, and certainly Conde remains stuck in (or at least on) the past. The murder case he has to work on here doesn't help matters, as the victim is a young teacher from the school he had gone to. The victim was a well-liked young woman and apparently a talented and enthusiastic teacher; only twenty-four, she wasn't that much older than some of her students. Of course, it turns out she wasn't simply the nice young woman first described to Conde, and the school isn't quite the near-idyllic place Conde likes to remember.
As someone tells him: "Things happen you probably don't know about. There are many people here up to their necks in it, and the trick is to keep your head down and not to get into trouble. That's why everybody will tell you Lissette the teacher was real nice. " It's Cuba, adjusting to a post-Soviet world, so there's a specific kind of small-scale corruption and crime, but while the details may differ, the motivations and feelings of the character are familiar enough. Here's also a world where the twelfth-graders are already "eternally adrift" -- younger versions of Conde himself. Conde has his informers and knows which buttons to push, though he seems almost wary of what he will find out. He meets a woman, too, and quickly falls head over heels -- but can reality live up to his expectations ? Conde is mired in nostalgia in Havana Gold. His friends point it out to him, too: "My friend, you can't live on nostalgia. Nostalgia deceives: it only reminds you of what you want to remember and that can be very healthy at times, but it's almost always counterfeit currency. But, you know, I don't reckon you've ever been fit for life. You're beyond the pale. You fucking live in the past. Live your life now, guy. It's not such a sin. "
Havana Gold feels somewhat like a transitional work in the quartet, a stage Conde has to get through, where he doesn't think he'll be able to write, for example (only imagining writing a book: "a chronicle of love, hatred, happiness and frustration, he would call it Havana Blue"). It's solid, but still probably the weakest of the four novels, but it has its place (and is well worthwhile) as part of the Conde-series.' - Complete Review

'Havana Gold is the final volume in the quartet of crime novels by Leonardo Padura, set in 1980's Havana and featuring the desultory detective Mario Conde, known as the Count. As in the previous books, Conde is by turns pensive and anguished, dreaming of becoming a writer and of finding a woman who might give his chaotic life a focus. The weather continues unsettled; the Spanish title, Vientos de cuaresma, refers to the foreboding feelings the approach of the hurricane season brings.
The case that opens the story concerns a violent crime: a pretty young school teacher has been brutally beaten and murdered at her home. Marijuana-which is nothing like as common in Cuba as it is in neighbouring Jamaica-is found in the apartment, and there is evidence of recent sexual intercourse but not rape. Conde is not shocked by the violence and cruelty, but he is intrigued by the dead woman's expensive wardrobe.
As the police investigation proceeds, the narrative drifts off to give us vignettes of "decrepit, dirty " Havana, of Conde's latest, inevitably short-term girl friend-a saxophone-playing, literature-playing beauty named Karina-and of his friends and colleagues. But these elements all weave into one another in Conde's mind. The horror of yet another seemingly pointless murder gives rise to a weary despair at the human condition. It is, he reflects, his destiny to solve crimes and to fail at everything else. In a sense, Conde also sees himself as a creature of Havana, a city of dashed hopes where the crumbling facades evoke recent misery more than they recall past grandeur.
Capitalism seems to make for better crime stories than Communism. There is the state bureaucracy of the police station, and Conde is too close to the dictatorial powers-that-be to be a true renegade. A further problem is that Peter Bush's translation is not always assured, as if the text had been proofed too quickly where a second reading might have found a sharper equivalent for some of the idioms and slang expressions.
But Havana Gold has other strengths. First published in 1994, it was the second of the four novel sequence, but it has a powerful eschatological quality. This is Havana in the late 1980's, in the final stages of the Cuban-Soviet alliance, before the tourism boom and before the mobile phone. The detective is a Columbo-type loser, relying on instinct and intuition, and his nostalgia for the early days of the Revolution infuses the writing with a romantic longing and an underlying resentment. Conde is a fully realized character; it is away from the crime scene-in his post-coital loquaciousness, his shambolic quarrelling with lesser men and his drunken nights out with Skinny Carlos-that we best observe him, an inchoate, impassioned every man.'

- Times Literary Supplement
'Things had seemed to be going well for Lieutenant Mario Conde. Following a memorable meal of Madrid-style stew made by the mother of his friend Skinny Carlos and a chance encounter with a beautiful female redhead saxophone player, the lieutenant was in high spirits. But when Conde is called to head quarters and assigned a case involving the murder of twenty-four year old Lisette Delgado such light hearted pleasures are quickly put to the back of his mind. It soon emerges that Delgado has a wardrobe full of clothes that would normally be beyond the reach of a Havana high school teacher and links to shadowy figures dealing drugs in the school where she worked. Under pressure from 'the highest authority' Conde must find her killer whilst also trying to unravel the mysterious identity of his new love interest. Havana Gold is the fourth novel in the Havana quartet by Leonardo Padura and once again creates a rich and fascinating portrayal of a crumbling yet vibrant city. Lusty, macho, foul-mouthed and poetic in roughly equal amounts Lieutenant Conde becomes our guide to the faded grandeur of Cuba's stylish yet poverty stricken capital as he reflects on the changing conditions in the city that he grew up in. Vital and rough-edged, Havana Gold is perhaps best enjoyed with a glass of rum and a cigar.' - Crime Time
'This is the fourth police Lieutenant Mario Conde book available in English by acclaimed Cuban writer Padura. Not having read its predecessors doesn't seem, however, to be a handicap: you soon get to know Conde well, with only fleeting hints of events which may have gone before.
In fact, the characters of Conde and Havana itself take precedence over the murder mystery plot here and, when you finally discover the killer only to realise both you and Conde are no longer really interested, you understand Padura is not writing in the typical Western crime tradition.
If you are looking for something atmospheric, with an exotic edge and a Latin soul, Padura is worth a try.' - Bolton News
'Publisher Bitter Lemon Press' temperamental webpage calls its offerings, "The best crime and romans noirs from faraway places." That's no idle boast. Mexico and Cuba, while not so far away from a United States-based reader, the publisher's London headquarters introduces a distinctively alien flavour to the pages of such novels as Rolo Diez' Tequila Blue and Leonardo Padura's Havana Gold. Havana Gold is the fourth in a series called The Havana Quartet (Havana Black, Red, Blue), all published by Bitter Lemon.
Padura is a superb writer and story teller.Despite the relentless Britishisms of translator Peter Bush (or John King for Adíos Hemingway), readers who enjoy good detective tales will enjoy the story, the characters, and the small insights into today's Cuba. Unlike Padura's Hemingway mystery--also featuring Conde--and other Cuba-set mysteries, there is more story and less privation. For example, Skinny's mother always has a great meal featuring meat. As a side benefit, Padura describes the recipe with sufficient detail that an adventurous cook might lift the meal off the pages and onto a dinner plate. The grim story casts Cuba in a no punches pulled framework. A high school honors teacher is murdered. A marijuana roach provides a clue to more far-reaching crime. The young teacher, it turns out, enjoys an active sex life with her students, petty street criminals, the headmaster, and uncounted others. Corruption doesn't creep in so much as it is taken for granted; the school's only half painted owing to someone stealing half the paint for personal gain, ho hum. Color lines remain in high relief, characters identified by skin color, or weaving it within the fabric of everyday conversation. Absence of consumer goods defines shopping--the teacher exchanges sex for a new pair of sneakers. These are the type of feature that make a work distinctively Cubano.
Padura's Conde character is a gem. Straight-arrow but driven to distraction by horniness. Conde's a writer who doesn't, and feels pangs of guilt and frustration about not writing. As a literate man, he sees his world through the lens of Shakespeare and other writers. Padura takes full advantage of his character to use allusion and literature-derived metaphor to describe the world while adding to the reader's enjoyment. Here a quick allusion to Prospero's revels speech, there something from Cervantes.
Although Havana Gold is not a travelogue like Martin Cruz Smith's Havana Bay, there's a rich sense of place infusing the novel with a sentimentality echoed by Conde's own sense of loss, his failure with women, writer's block, devotion to friends, both those still in Cuba and the ones who are "off". Still, I worry that too much might have been lost in translation.
Anglophone Americans laugh with the old saying about themselves and Britons being separated by a common tongue. Havana Gold strikingly reaffirms the truth of that, in some unpleasing reminders that this is a work in translation from Spanish into British.Most readers have no difficulty looking past -our spelling where US English calls for simple -or. But how alien indeed to hear old friends--one a cop, one a doctor, one a paralyzed war veteran--remembering back when, as boys, they played baseball: the fresh air, a prized leather glove, striding out to take their position on the pitch. No, not the fastball, the field, the pitch.
The most strident idiomatic conflict develops out of the novel's key romantic interlude, the cute meet when Conde fixes a flat tyre for a beautiful woman. He makes a pass, she takes it for a quick six. She's just playing him along but he's head-over-heels in love. When she dumps him, his bittersweet farewell loses its tender reminder of their meeting, when our separate tongues get in the way:
He held her shoulders, stroked her thick, damp hair and kissed her gently on the lips. "Tell me when you need a tyre changing. It's my speciality." That variant spelling leads me to hear the broken-hearted Conde pronounce four syllables, "spe-shee-all-i-tea," and the charm evaporates. Sadly, this comes amidst a magical moment where Padura's writing approaches his most masterful. The author sets up a beautiful parallel of Conde and Karina with Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca. Bogie/Rick laments about all the gin joints in the world she walks into his and plays that song:
"Don't think ill of me, Mario," she replied, also standing up.
"Does it matter to you what I think?"
"Yes, it does. I think you're right, we should meet up in another life. "
"Pity about the mistake. But don't worry, I'm always getting it wrong," he said opening the door. The sun was disappearing behind the old Marian Brothers school in La Víbora and the Count felt like crying. Recently he'd wanted to cry a lot. He looked at Karina and wondered: why? He held her shoulders, stroked her thick, damp hair and kissed her gently on the lips. "Tell me when you need a tyre changing. It's my speciality."
And he walked down the porch towards the garden.
He was sure she'd call out, tell him to hell with everything, she'd stay with him, she adored sad policemen, she'd always play her sax for him, he only had to say "play it again", they'd be birds of the night, hungry for love and lust, he heard her run towards him, arms outstretched and sweet music in the background, but each step he took in the direction of the street stuck the knife in a little deeper, quickly bled dry his last hope. When he reached the pavement he was a man alone. What a load of shit, he thought. There wasn't even any music.
Conde's tough luck is the reader's gain. An inspired character from a masterful creator, even when read through the fog of the mother tongue. This definitely is a quartet well worth following for the full spectrum.' - La Bloga
'ONE OF THE most fascinating dimensions of Mario Conde, the contemplative cop whose introspection is mined like a seam by Leonardo Padura through a series of well-received crime novels, is that his creator is a journalist.
Padura cut his teeth as a journalist and his stories featuring Conde have the unmistakable patina of magazine and newspaper style while reflecting the many opportunities members of the profession gain to gather hard information germane to this kind of narrative. Why this should be of note is that, in this respect and despite the Cuban anomalies, Padura's development coincides neatly with a whole generation of writers in Latin America for whom crime fiction is an extension of previous incarnations in the press.
Many of the Latin American writers who have come into print in the last 20 years - from Diego Paszkowski to Oscar Núñez Olivas - honed their skills in busy newsrooms. They have been immersed in the reality of crime and corruption in rapidly urbanising societies and, as a result, have also had access to information their work generates that allows them to give their writing blunt authenticity. Padura's career also reflects the similar, limited, financial opportunities open to aspiring novelists in the region initially unable to secure readerships large enough to support them financially. Although he wrote his first novel - a love story - in the early 1980s, it was not until the early 1990s and after several years as a jobbing journalist that his Conde makes his successful appearance. The author has acknowledged the role of journalism in shaping his approach and style as a novelist.
As one LatAmRoB contributor has argued: "Crime is a genre that sells, and authors need to sell in order to keep writing; crime also translates well to the screen, so it is possible that authors are writing with that in mind; and crime is an urban preoccupation, and the writers who dominate the literary infrastructure of countries such as Argentina and Uruguay are urban beasts. "
Stylistic efficiency
While others returning to Padura will tell you Havana Gold is not his best work, and the weakest of the Conde novels, there is an ease, confidence and stylistic efficiency about this mystery that confirms the author's status as one of Cuba's most accomplished contemporary writers. It is also notable for its quiet candour about daily struggles on the island - which does not seem so besieged - and for the hints of nostalgia in this post-Soviet Cuba that pokes through the rich banter and petty corruption. Havana Gold - the fourth book in the prize-winning Havana quartet series - tells the story of Conde's investigation into the murder of a schoolteacher raped and strangled in her apartment. Under pressure from superiors, the cerebral detective uncovers uncomfortable realities hidden behind Havana's crumbling facades - and in the process finds himself in the arms of a beautiful, jazz-loving soulmate.
While there is a predictability about his characters, scenarios and, indeed, the cigars, rum and easy, exotic women that are so casually associated with the Cuban capital, Padura is a master at evoking atmosphere - small wonder for a writer who has also written for the screen. He is also the closest Havana has to a laureate, as immersed in the city, its temptations and its friendly repartee as a writer in love with it could be.' - Latin American Review of Books
'Leonardo Padura is arguably Cuba's most important writer of fiction.
That this distinction should fall on an author of detective fiction instead of a scribe aiming for the Great Cuban Novel says a lot about the uneasy relationship between Castro's Cuba and its literati. After a history of purges and bans from publication, Cuban writers -- and other artists -- are cautious. Detective fiction, however, allows the narrative to travel to the underbelly of Cuban society since, after all, we're chasing criminals in a country where most media news is good news: the amazing productivity of heroic workers or the fight readiness of the equally heroic armed forces. Padura, or rather his ace detective, police lieutenant Mario Conde, must follow leads to black markets, drag clubs, corrupt government officials, and, in Havana Gold, dope dealers, which allows Padura a free hand to explore the many unofficial corners of a city that's always been known for its unofficial corners. In Havana Gold, Conde hangs with the dropouts, post-hippie nihilists who, shunning any label or ideology, simply refuse to work in a Communist system where work is a sacred duty. The lieutenant is investigating the death of a lovely female high-school teacher who perhaps was too intimate with her students and in whose apartment there are traces of marijuana. In the end, every suspect is guilty of something, even if not the crime at hand. And though the murder is solved, it's obvious that Padura is following Hitchcock's formula of the McGuffin: the ostensible cause for the investigation is but a pretext to tell a more interesting story. Conde is a cop, but -- in an established tradition -- he's a maverick. (In one of the earlier Conde novels the lieutenant has quit the force and become a rare-book dealer, which merely leads him to a labyrinthine investigation.) He's into classic rock, jazz, literature, baseball and male bonding. His best friend is a wheelchair-bound veteran of Cuba's Angola adventure, the island's version of a disabled Vietnam vet, who retains his nickname, Flaco (Skinny), even though he has become quite fat. Some of the best passages in Havana Gold and the other Conde novels are the banter between these two friends. Alas, Havana Gold was translated in England, and British language among street guys merely 90 miles away from the United States grates on the American reader. In an American translation, there'd be no need to call Conde's friend Skinny; Flaco would do. The righteous pursuit of a marijuana trade reeks a bit of Reefer Madness squareness until a lyrical passage on a pot high claimed that the weed Columbus' men saw the Indians smoke in Cuba was not plain old tobacco. Typically, though, Conde is a boozer, always nursing a hangover. Padura's detective fiction is a fine read, but it's also a door to the real Cuba. Havana Gold is quite good, though not as daring as Masks, in which Conde confronts the government's official homophobia. Like his colleagues elsewhere, Conde is at odds with the system, which in this case is the revolution. He does not oppose it, but its abuses wear on him and on the society this good cop must dig into to solve his crimes. - Miami Herald
'Cuban police detective Mario "the Count " Conde still feels "solidarity with writers, crazy people, and drunkards, " but his melancholy seems to be seeping even deeper into his soul in this fourth installment of Padura's Havana series. Padura's lush, free-flowing prose is the perfect vehicle to describe both the crumbling elegance of Havana and the tortured emotional agonies of a hopelessly romantic yet terminally morose hero. For hard-boiled fiction fans who are soft-boiled at heart-and who can't get enough of Debussy, Ravel, and Frank Sinatra singing "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.' - Booklist
'Havana Gold in 2008 Top Ten by Canada's Chronicle Herald
Havana, a quaint, beautiful, frighten¬ing and mysterious city, is captured smartly by Leonardo Padura, a life¬long resident of the city. Havana Gold, last of a quartet to be translated, is probably the best. All four of the se¬ries beg to be read and can be enjoyed in any order. In Havana Gold, Mario Conde, the sleuth who longs to be a writer, investigates the murder of his one-time chemistry teacher and in doing so comes into contact with his first love.' - Chronicle Herald
'Does it ever seem that there are times in life when the sun is shining and there are no clouds on the horizon? That's exactly how life feels to Mario Conde ("the Count") - he's had a warm evening with his best friend, Skinny Carlos, and a superb meal. Add to that he's met an amazing red-headed woman named Karina who plays the saxophone and fallen instantly in love, and certainly life is better than good. However, given the fact that Mario is a police lieutenant, you can bet that any sunshine is very temporary. It's back to darkness as he is assigned to investigate the murder of a 24-year-old teacher named Lisette Delgado, who was beaten, raped and strangled.
The book is almost like one long chronological essay. There are no chapter divisions. Padura moves the narrative forward in pieces, with the murder investigation woven into the daily activities of the Count's life. It's not exactly stream of consciousness, but it does flow almost effortlessly forward. The crime is somewhat secondary; the presentation of life in Havana and Mario's quest for love are equally important. He's certainly an interesting character, a man who is unrestrained in his passions and very expressive of his emotions. It's telling that his real desire in life is to be a writer rather than a policeman. As the book states: His mixture of pigheadedness and pessimism, of non-conformity and pugnacious intellect were components of a mind that was too strange and effective to be a policeman's. But yet, he is very effective in that role.
Reviews often say that the setting is a character in a book, and that is truly the case here. Mario Conde IS Havana - they are both passionate and vibrant and proud, with a long history and some dark and depressed areas. Yet, they both exude optimism; despite the problems they face, there is a bright future ahead. Set in the 1980s, there's no sense of what Havana will become in the decades that follow.' - I Love a Mystery
'From Bitter Lemon Press comes another translated noir masterpiece: HAVANA GOLD, the fourth in Leonardo Padura's HAVANA QUARTET series featuring Mario Conde, a policeman who is just doing a job. It becomes quite apparent that Conde is a policeman is name only. He understands it's a job that puts food on his table, but he'd much rather be writing or just drinking himself into a stupor, and his new case just adds to his never-ending grief.
The setting is Cuba in 1989 - a time when the glory of the country really has become a faded memory for most of its people. Padura has crafted a view of Havana that most people don't see, in that Conde reflects upon the past glory and now deals with a city that has definitely passed its prime.
Conde is told to investigate a murder of a young woman who had a double life as a high school teacher and a whore who had a steady stream of boyfriends paying for her expenses. Some clues that point this way are the marijuana cigarettes left about her home, and the proof of her having had sex right before she was killed, be it forced or consensual. Throw in the fact that it might have been someone high up in the school system and that just adds to the pressure of this case. As soon as Conde makes any progress in his investigation, bureaucracy rears its head, even though it was clearly expressed to him that this case was a top priority.
The HAVANA QUARTET has received nothing but praise and this review only adds to it. It's truly an original author who can craft a story that does not rely on cheap gimmicks, but focuses more on the characters themselves and what drives them, especially when they understand they are just there to perform a service and not upset the larger picture. Bitter Lemon needs to be thanked for translating this for our shores.' - Bookgasm.com
'Havana cop and novelist manqué Mario Conde is one of fiction's most introspective policemen, and this instalment of Padura's Havana Quartet has him so beset by nostalgia - he's looking into the murder of a teacher from his old school - and lust - he's fallen for a sax-playing redhead - that he cannot stop philosophising for a second. Padura's attempt to give an authentic flavour of life in Communist Cuba is spoiled by overblown writing. One does not have to take a book as seriously as its author does to enjoy it, however, and happy as I am to read an efficient mystery with a bit of light emotional wallowing, I had a fine old time.' - Daily Telegraph
'Twenty-four year old teacher Lissette Delgado was beaten, raped, and then strangled with a towel. Marijuana is found in her apartment and her wardrobe is suspiciously beyond the means of a high school teacher. It becomes clear that Lissette had a number of lovers - could one of them be the killer? Havana Gold is the fourth of Leonardo Padura's classic Cuban noir novels to be translated into English. Again it features his melancholic detective, Lieutenant Conde ("The Count"), whose boyhood dreams of being a writer instead of a policeman still surface from time to time. And, also like the previous three books, it is a eulogy of steamy Cuban life, jazz, sex and friendships. For a man still living on the Caribbean island, Padura is remarkably honest about the failings of the revolutionary regime - the lack of basics like coffee, the crumbling buildings, the people who have fled to Miami. But it is clear he loves the place. As Conde investigates the murder, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman who seems too good to be true. His assignations with her give him a break from his usual after-work routine of eating and drinking himself into a stupor with childhood friend Skinny - who is no longer skinny since being paralyzed during army service in the Angolan civil war. And his investigations take him back to his old school and prompt memories of his childhood.' - Ilford Recorder and Newham Recorder
'Havana, spring 1989. A young teacher is found strangled in her apartment. There is evidence that at least two men have raped her and that marijuana has been smoked. Inspector Mario Conde, aka The Count, is appointed to the case - and told that there are pressures "from the highest authority " to solve it fast. Like an indulgent parent, Leonardo Padua allows his literary progeny (in this, his fifth outing) free rein to chat up women, argue about books and music, get drunk with friends and express his desires. Indeed, we get to know The Count so well, and become so involved with his arguments about Franny and Zooey (better than The Catcher in The Rye), John Fogerty (the greatest ever voice) and "Strawberry Fields " (The Beatles' best song), that unravelling the murder becomes almost incidental to the plot.
Havana Gold is a textured treat for those who like their detective fiction served long and lazy with a double shot of rum.'
- Financial Times
'Mario Conde, Padura's tormented Cuban police detective, is at his anguished best in this sequentially second volume of the so-called Havana Quartet, which constitutes a four-season chronicle of one year (1989) in Conde's life, though it's the last of the four to be available in English translation. The hard-drinking, romantic Conde, who's wanted to become a writer but ended up as a policeman in a corrupt and struggling land, constantly questions his fate as he investigates the murder of young, good-looking school teacher, Lissette Núñez Delgado, who taught at Pre-University High School, the same school Conde attended in his youth. Conde's return to his old school triggers nostalgia and regrets as he interviews the headmaster, students and fellow teachers. The original title, Vientos de Cuaresma (The Winds of Lent), captures the extensive wind imagery that Padura skillfully uses to capture Conde's state of mind.' - Publishers Weekly
'Havana Gold is the last of Leonardo Padura's tetralogy-plus-one of novels about Havana detective Mario Conde, the Count. Actually the books are as much about Havana as about the detective or the crimes he investigates. In my limited acquaintance with Cuban literature, no one evokes that city in so poetic and evocative a way since G. Cabrera Infante (who was an emigre, while Padura has remained in his native city). Havana Gold is the last published but the second in the tetralogy (the fifth novel, Adios Hemingway, was an addendum featuring the same character but not a continuation of the series). As usual, the third person narration is interrupted by other voices, and there are metafictional elements (Conde proposes to write a novel about his current situation and call it Havana Gold (that's the translation, I'm sure the original novel uses its own Spanish title), plus when Conde is looking for something to read (while longing for his new girlfriend) the only book that appeals bears the title of Padura's obscure first novel. Padura's books resemble the Brazilian series by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza (which evokes Rio in a similar way, as well as having the meandering plots that characterize Padura's novels), But in a way a more apt comparison is to the detective novels of Yasmina Khadra, in that both are dealing with a threatened regime (Algeria threatened by a government that denies its citizens basic human rights and insurgent Islamic fundamentalists, Cuba's by U.S. embargo and its own clinging-to-communism-and-revolution regime). Khadra's detective is also a writer, though already a succesful one, while Conde remains a writer manque. Neither Khadra nor Padura have any optimism about their societies, though Padura is both more emotionally attached at least to his city and is less overtly political than Khadra. What is distinctive about Padura's detective novels is a pervading melancholy of nostalgia--not a nostalgia for a lost golden age, but for the loss of youthful dreams (not only Conde but all his friends have settled for less than seemed possible in their schooldays at the Pre-Uni that figures largely in this novel). Havana Gold finds Conde caught between two women, one a murdered teacher with an ambiguous reputation, the other a beautiful woman who mysteriously appears in Conde's path, needing her car's tire changed (the car itself being a mark of her position in Cuban society). Conde manages to solve the case of the murdered woman (not by ratiocination but by doggedly following leads and instincts). But the "case" of the mysterious woman leads him down his often-traveled path from love to loss. Not that he doesn't manage some consolation (from sex, from the cooking of his friend Skinny Carlos's mother, and from a tentative dedication to the job to which he is dedicated, without ever quite being a "real cop" or even a real adult (along with his nostalgia for lost youth there is much of the aged adolescent about Conde, with his penchant for picking fights, among other juvenile traits). It is Padura's strength that he achieves much poetry and truth with his flawed characters and within the structure of the crime novel.' - Internationalnoir.blogspot.com
'In 1989 Cuban police detective Mario Conde hates being a cop as he would have preferred to be a writer. However, no matter how he tries to romanticize his existence, he must eat and so cop he is. Drinking helps him when state sponsored corruption interferes with his investigation. His current case makes him want to quit in order to turn into a 24/7 alcoholic. Someone murdered pretty Pre-University High School schoolteacher, Lissette Nunez Delgado. This particular inquiry hits home as Conde went to school here when he dreamed of becoming a Cuban Hemingway. As he interviews the headmaster, staff and pupils, Conde wonders what happened to his dreams and those of his countrymen. The fourth Havana police procedural is a great tale (likes its colorful predecessors) that follows one year in the life of a dedicated cynical Cuban cop. The story line is fast-paced as Conde investigates the murder of a young popular teacher, but runs into bureaucracy from the school and his superiors. However, the key to this saga remains the disenchanted hero who struggles to do his job properly, which to him means solving the case, but to others connotes satisfying the state and the Party.' - Mystery Gazette
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