Havana Blue by Leonardo Padura

havana blueHavana Blue by Leonardo Padura, translated by Peter Bush
Bitter Lemon Press, 2007
Written in 1991, originally published in 2000 as Pasado perfecto


Mario Conde is a detective in Havana who investigates the disappearance of one of his high school classmates, Rafael Morin, a vice-minister who negotiates international business deals who also happens to be married to a woman whom Conde loved when they were young. The story alternates between the present missing persons investigation in the late 1980s and their time in high school in the 1970s, and Padura spends a great deal of time talking around the question of why Conde joined the police and stayed (he’s a frustrated writer who idolizes Hemingway, but he leaves a university course in psychology to join the police).

I read the book to get a sense of Cuba, and this particular story follows Conde and his group of friends as they go to school and become adults. Conde is a good detective, Morin becomes a superstar in his bureaucratic post, and his other close friends’ stories I will leave you to discover. On the negative side, the actual mystery was not as well-developed for me as the story of Conde and his friends growing up, I was dismayed by Conde’s constant interior monologues about women he lusts after, and sometimes the translation felt clunky to me. When I happen to read a book with such a sexist main character, it’s jarring to me despite the interesting commentary about life in Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s.

I refer you to another review in The Game’s Afoot and a profile of Padura in The Independent.

The Havana Quartet is known as Las cuatro estaciones in Spanish, and each takes place in a different season.

  1. Pasado Perfecto published as Havana Blue
  2. Vientos de cuaresma, published as Havana Gold
  3. Máscaras, published as Havana Red
  4. Paisaje de otoño, published as Havana Black