Who strangled the transvestite?,
This review is from: HAVANA RED (Paperback)Havana Red - original title: `Mascara' (= `Mask') - is one of a quartet of detective novels featuring hard-drinking, angst-ridden detective Mario Conde, who'd really prefer to be a writer. After a transvestite is found strangled in Havana Woods, Conde and able sidekick Manuel Palacios set off on the trail of the killer. There is a rich cast of characters, and the pair have to contend with an ageing, ostracised gay writer, a diplomat, several thugs, an enigmatic but erudite housemaid, and police with dubious motives before solving the mystery.
The problem with this book is that it is so uneven. There is a strong storyline, and whenever the author focuses on the main plot, the book is a real page-turner. Too often, however, there are lengthy asides on various topics like the marginalisation of artists and writers, Cuba's troubled past, and biblical analysis, not to mention Conde's repeated philosophising. Translator Peter Bush has on the whole done a good job, especially with the dialogue sections, but you sense that he struggled at times with the dense prose of the tirades, which may make them sound worse than they are. Defenders of Sr. Padura may argue that, given the turmoil in Cuba of recent decades, his characters have the right to rant, that a Cuban detective novel is unlikely to resemble other detective novels, and that for Padura it's obviously important to document social history, not just write a detective novel. All of this may be true, but it didn't stop me finding some of the rants tedious and out of place in a book of this genre, where I want to be carried along by the action.
Despite its shortcomings, there is a lot to like in this book. There are humorous moments, a couple of erotic episodes, and several beautifully-drawn characters. Descriptions of various areas in Havana will mean more if you have been there but might whet your appetite if you haven't. Padura is a true Habanero and his descriptions of life on the street there are authentic and captivating - and it all takes place under the searing summer sun. It's enough to make me try at least one more book of the quartet.