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Havana Gold: The Havana Quartet Paperback – Oct 31 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
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. (June 30)
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Praise for the Havana Quartet:"Overlaid with a rich smoky patina, an atmosphere that reeks of slums and riches, cigar smoke and exotic perfumes. Havana Black is a strong tasting book, a rich feast of wit and feeling." Independent"Drenched with that beguiling otherness so appealing to fans of mysteries of other cultures, Havana Blue will also appeal to those who appreciate the sultry lyricism of James Lee Burke. " Booklist"...a magnificent Dickensian evocation of the city's street hassle; it takes in drugdealers, hookers, people queuing for pizza, newly-weds, the hotels and baseball fans, and captures the enthralling gloom of dimly lit, apocalyptic early-evening Havana.' Times Literary Supplement"A great plot, perfectly executed with huge atmosphere. In Havana Black you can almost smell the cigar smoke, rum and cheap women." Daily Mirror"Conde's quest follows the basic rhythm of the whodunit, but Padura syncopates Havana Red with brilliant riffs on Cuban sex, society, religion, even food." IndependentSee all Product Description
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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.
While Havana Gold is the fourth book released in the series, in Padura's chronology it's the second story. Each book is set in each season of the year 1989; Blue, winter; Gold, spring; Red, summer; Black, autumn. While each book stands on it's own and it's not necessary to read them in any particular order, Padura does make backward references, so you might want to take that into consideration.
Lastly, Padura is not an "easy read"; his prose can sometimes get ponderous, especially during Conde's introspective periods, which are frequent. But it also flows, such as in Havana Red where the author describes each one of a number of individuals at a party in way that makes you feel you're actually there scanning the room, all in one sentence that encompasses an entire page. Also beware of sudden changes of tense and person that'll leave you wondering, "Where did this come from?". Don't worry, it'll become obvious as you read on.
Hope this helps.
The case Mario's working on in this book is challenging. A young woman chemistry teacher at Mario's old high school is found beaten, twice raped and strangled in her apartment. Drugs are in evidence. Yet she was a member of the Communist Youth, an exemplary cadre with a pristine ideological record.
The book is rich in poetic passages on the decaying beauty of Havana. And as in other books, Mario wallows in nostalgia for his innocent or not-so-innocent high school days. His friends are still the same guys he hung out with in high school. Mario has a real talent for friendship, but he's not lucky in love.
He's desperately in love in this book, and the reader is treated to some exuberant scenes of steamy coupling with bizarre embellishments. Leonardo Padura excels at such scenes. They do strike me as being a bit of a male fantasy, which is okay too.
As the investigation unfolds, Mario exhibits an excess of machismo and immaturity; a total lack of restraint in the consumption of rum; and an unrealistic attitude towards women. But this is his odd charm as an investigator.
Mario often proclaims he wants to write something someday that's "squalid and moving." That perfectly describes the Havana Quartet.
Lots of interesting details about CUban life in the 1980's, an era some call the "Golden Age" of Cuban socialism.