Moscow detective Arkady Renko, out of work and miserable for the last half-dozen years, is called to the Russian Embassy in Havana to look into the mysterious disappearance of his old comrade Sergei Pribluda. Renko is fighting suicidal impulses, trying to survive despite a crushing personal tragedy, and the trip to Cuba is an opportunity to leave the gloomy and cold Moscow winter behind and get away from the constant reminders of better times. Unknown to his bosses he plans to commit suicide once he gets to Cuba.
But immediately after he arrives the Cuban police want him to identify a floater pulled from Havana Bay as his missing friend. Pribluda, a former KGB agent, who is currently the Russian Security Service's resident spy in Havana, has been missing for almost two weeks. The Cuban authorities want him to make the identification, acknowledge that the death was from natural causes, and return to Moscow on the next flight.
Renko says he's not sure it Pribluda, since the body is badly decomposed and the circumstances surrounding the death may not be as obvious as they seem. Renko wants the Cuban police to investigate, however they apparently won't. Renko regains his will to live and is determined to find out what happened to Pribluda, so he begins his own snooping. What he finds is more than he expected and certainly more than the Cubans wanted him to find. It seems the case has the potential to become an embarrassment for Castro's government and the Cuban's want the matter closed quickly and quietly.
As he's done in Renko's past adventures, Smith shows his readers a culture and country foreign to most in the United States. He depicts a Cuba learning to make its own way in the world, an island with rich customs where 1950s vintage American cars cruise seaside boulevards and many people practice the mystic Santeria religion. I couldn't put this book down and I can't recommend it enough.