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.