Mario Conde has long left the police force to make a living trading in antique books, but his detective instincts remain keen. In a decaying mansion occupied by a starving brother, sister and their elderly mother he discovers a magnificent library full of rare and valuable books. His intuition tells him that something is not quite right – why has the collection remained intact for so long when the family have no obvious means of support – but his own perilous financial position compels him to trade with them. Hidden between the pages of one book he finds a news cutting about Violeta del Rio, a sultry bolero singer of the 1950s with a voice and body that men instantly fell in love with, but who mysteriously disappeared just as she started to become famous. His interest piqued, Conde starts to investigate her disappearance, slowly finding himself infatuated with the singer. As he feared, by disturbing the library he has rekindled forces long dormant, and it’s not long before he is accused of murder.
Havana Fever is a slow burner of a novel, rolling along a gentle pace though tension is never far from the surface. Padura writes with colourful and expressive prose, providing sumptuous descriptions of food, music, and literature, as well as long reflective passages on Conde’s life and thoughts. Though he is clearly a skilled wordsmith and storyteller, and I know Havana Fever will appeal to those that love well crafted prose and thick description, my taste is for more action and dialogue and less description and reflection. For large parts of the novel, especially the first half, not very much happens, although the reader gains an insight into Cuban music, literature, a sample of its economy and politics, and the world and friends of Mario Conde. It is not often I read novels in parallel, but I read two novels and one history book whilst also reading this story. In short, Havana Fever is beautifully written and has an interesting plot, but it moved to slowly for this reader.
Other reviews can be found at: International Noir, Independent Crime