Blog Tour – November 2022 – Havana Fever – Leonardo Padura

First of all, I must apologise to everyone for my recent absence – I was forced to miss a few blog tours due to a private problem where other things were forced to take precedence. I have, however, still managed to read most of the books, and hope to post reviews of them over the next few weeks.

To celebrate my return, we have a touch of exotica now – we’re off to Cuba, where a cold case from 1960 has intrigued retired police investigator, now book dealer, Mario Conte…

Do you ever read a book that totally captivates you, and whisks you off to a different time and place? I’m sure you all know what I mean, but I have to say – I cannot recall a book which has grabbed me so absolutely as Havana Fever. It’s an absolutely magical book – in fact, as I type this I’m listening to Cuban music from the 1950s, both to get me in the mood, and because I’m so seduced by the time and place about which I’ve been reading. Reviews in the press release from The Independent compare Padura’s writing to that of James Lee Burke’s, one of my favourite writer who brings rural Louisiana and New Orleans vividly to life in a similar fashion to Padura’s Cuba – the island both of noughties Havana, when the book is set and was originally released, and of the city before Batista was overthrown by the Communist regime of Castro and Guevera (the man of a million student t-shirts and posters!) This saw the end of the mafia’s huge lucrative casinos, with Cuba being closed off to American tourists and imports, and reliant on Russia. Desperate Cubans flocked to the US (particularly Florida) – including the affluent businessman whose untouched library Conte stumbles upon while cold calling in the hope of making a few dollars.

So what is the Cuba of the Noughties like?

People are starving, and on ration books, but a black market exists for those with dollars. So the brother and sister whose house Conte calls at that day are finally selling the last thing of value – the house’s library. Their mother had forbade them from doing so as she’d always promised the family who’d left the house in her care she’d look after their things, but forty years have passed, and they must eat. They let Conte enter a fascinating library packed with absolute gems, which is a great story itself as part of the book, but the Count, as he is known, is particularly obsessed with a newspaper cutting he finds of a bolero singer called Violeta del Rio, whose name rings a vague bell from his childhood…

He starts to research her, but it appears she disappeared without trace around 1960. Is she married, living with a family somewhere on Cuba? Or is there, as the Count suspects, a darker story attached to her disappearance…?

It seems he’s still an investigator at heart…

Yes! Absolutely! And so begins a journey to find the few still alive who can take him – and us – back to the world of smoky bars, casinos, and all-night clubs. In those years Havana was a city filled with music, American celebrities, with mafia gangsters running the gambling dens and controlling this night-time underworld. The descriptions bring the city alive as we begin to piece together that world, its characters, and what happened. In parallel, we’re exploring the depleted city just after the millenium. The writing is incredibly descriptive, to the extent you can smell the cigars, hear the jazzy sounds, taste the rum, and see the well-dressed people from the past laugh, not knowing soon it’ll be the end for them of this city of gambling, drinking, prostitutes, sex, and partying to the unique soundtrack of the boleros.

So it’s fair to say you enjoyed this book?

That is an understatement! It will most definitely be one of the best books I’ve read this year – it’s a masterpiece of noirish writing. I remember reading a great book many years ago called The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love – it became a film, with a young-ish Antonio Banderas, if I’m recalling correctly, and this book brings similar music alive like it did.

I was also reminded of writers like Jake Arnott, who injects a night-time underworld with life similarly, albeit in different countries. And I can see why James Lee Burke was name-checked in reviews.

I read somewhere that this incredible book was out of print for ten years until Bitter Lemon Press, who supply us with so much absolutely excellent translated fiction, brought it back into print. I’ll also be looking to invest in the quartet of books written about Conte’s days as a policeman, and those that follow this one!

An absolute masterpiece!

With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC. This has not influenced my opinion, and this is an honest review.

Author Leonardo Padura

Follow other great bloggers on this tour!

BLURB: Mario Conde has retired from the police force and makes a living trading in antique books. Havana is now flooded with dollars, populated by pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and other hunters of the night. In the library of a rich Cuban who fled after the fall of Batista, Conde discovers an article about Violeta del Rio, a beautiful bolero singer of the 1950s who disappeared mysteriously. A murder soon follows. This story, set in today’s darker Cuba, also evokes the Havana of Batista, the city of a hundred night clubs where the paths of Marlon Brando and Meyer Lansky crossed.

Havana Fever is many things: a suspenseful crime novel, a cruel family saga and an ode to the literature and music of Padura’s beloved, ravaged island.


4 thoughts on “Blog Tour – November 2022 – Havana Fever – Leonardo Padura

    • Thanks Margot – he’s totally new to me and (as you can see!) I was utterly smitten. He really captures the whole allure of Cuba. And now you can holiday there, am I right…? Not before time!

      Liked by 1 person

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