The Alphabet in Crime Fiction, P is for Padura, Leonardo Padura


The Alphabet in Crime Fiction is a Community Meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. This week’s letter is the letter “P”.  Click HERE to see the contribution of other fellow participants to this week’s Crime Fiction Alphabet.

And my “P” is for Padura. Leonardo Padura was born in 1955 in Havana and lives in Cuba. He has published a number of short-story collections and literary essays but international fame came with the Havana Quartet, all featuring Inspector Mario Conde. Like many others of his generation, Padura had faced the question of leaving Cuba, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s, when living conditions deteriorated sharply as Russian aid evaporated. He chose to stay. And to write beautiful ironic novels in which Soviet-style socialism is condemned by implication through scenes of Havana life where even the police are savagely policed. The crime novels feed on the noises and smells of Havana, on the ability of its inhabitants to keep joking, to make love and music, to drink rum, and to survive through petty crime such as running clandestine bars and restaurants.

The Inspector Mario Conde Series:

Havana Blue. Bitter Lemon Press, 2007. (Original title, Pasado perfecto (Tusquets 2009), 1991). The publisher’s blurb reads: “Lieutenant Mario Conde is suffering from a terrible New Year’s Eve hangover. Though it’s the middle of a weekend, he is asked to urgently investigate the mysterious disappearance of Rafael Morin, a high-level business manager in the Cuban nomenklatura. Conde remembered Morin from their student days: good-looking, brilliant, a “reliable comrade’’ who always got what he wanted, including Tamara the girl Conde was after. But Rafael Morin’s exemplary rise from a poor barrio and picture perfect life hide more than one suspicious episode worthy of investigation. While pursuing the case in a decaying but adored Havana Conde confronts his lost love for Tamara and the dreams and illusions of his generation.” My review: Havana Blue (Original title: Pasado Perfecto) – Leonardo Padura

Havana Gold. Bitter Lemon Press, 2008. (Original title, Vientos de cuaresma (Tusquets, 2009), 1994 .The publisher’s blurb reads: “Twenty-four year old Lissette Delgado was beaten, raped, and then strangled with a towel. Marijuana is found in her apartment and her wardrobe is suspiciously beyond the means of a high school teacher. Lieutenant Conde is pressured by “the highest authority” to conclude this investigation quickly when chance leads him into the arms of a beautiful redhead, a saxophone player who shares his love for jazz and Japanese fighting fish. This is a Havana of crumbling, grand buildings, secrets hidden behind faded doors and corruption.” My review: Leonardo Padura – Havana Gold (Original title Vientos de Cuaresma).

Havana Red. Bitter Lemon Press, 2005. (Original title,  Mascaras (Tusquets, 2009), 1997. The publisher’s blurb reads: “A body is found in a Havana park. A young transvestite dressed in a beautiful red evening dress, strangled. The victim had fled his family, finding refuge with Marqués, a forgotten man in his own country, an author and theatre director once condemned by his government for being a “heretical homosexual”, living alone surrounded only by books, his house in ruins. In the baking heat of the Havana summer Conde moves through a Cuban reality where nothing is what it seems, a dark, fascinating world of men and women born in the Revolution who live without dreaming of exile and seek their identity in the midst of disaster.”

Havana Black. Bitter Lemon Press, 2006. (Original title, Paisaje de otoño (Tusquets, 2009), 1998. The publisher’s blurb reads: “The brutally mutilated body of Miguel Forcade is discovered washed up on a Havana beach. Head smashed in by a baseball bat, genitals cut off by a blunt knife. Forcade was once responsible for confiscating art works from the bourgeoisie fleeing the revolution. Had he really returned from exile just to visit his ailing father? Lieutenant Mario Conde immerses himself in Cuba’s dark history, expropriations of priceless paintings now vanished without trace, corruption and old families who appear to have lost much, but not everything. Padura evokes the disillusionment of a generation who embraced the revolutionary cause and now struggles to survive in a decaying city threatened by hurricane Felix. Yet this novel is a eulogy to Cuba, to its music and sensuality, and to the great friendships of those who chose to stay and fight for survival.”

These first four titles are known as the “Havana Quartet”.

Adiós Hemingway. Canongate Press, 2006 (novella). (Original title: Adiós Hemingway (Tusquets, 2006), 2001. The publisher’s blurb reads: “When the skeletal remains of a man brought down by two buckshots forty years earlier surface on the Havana estate of Ernest Hemingway, ex-cop Mario Conte reluctantly accepts a reinstatement to investigate. As the truth of the night of October 3, 1958, slowly reveals itself, Conte must come to terms with his idealistic memory of Papa Hemingway on Cuba’s sun-drenched docks from when he was a child tagging along with his grandfather. Padura Fuentes weaves Conte’s world with that of Hemingway’s Cuba four decades earlier, a period marking the beginning of Hemingway’s decline. In the heat-and-rum haze, the eras and personas begin to merge in this evocative, compelling novel.”

Havana Fever. Bitter Lemon Press, 2009. (Original title: La neblina del ayer (Tusquets, 2009), 2003. The publisher’s blurb reads: “Havana, 2003, fourteen years since Mario Conde retired from the police force and much has changed in Cuba. He now makes a living trading in antique books bought from families selling off their libraries in order to survive. In the house of Alcides de Montes de Oca, a rich Cuban who fled after the fall of Batista, Conde discovers an extraordinary book collection and, buried therein, a newspaper article about Violeta del Rio, a beautiful bolero singer of the 1950’s, who disappeared mysteriously. Conde’s intuition sets him off on an investigation that leads him into a darker Cuba, now flooded with dollars, populated by pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and other hunters of the night. But this novel also allows Padura to evoke the Havana of Batista, the city of a hundred night clubs where Marlon Brando and Josephine Baker listened to boleros, mambos and jazz.”

The Inspector Mario Conde books are translated from Spanish into English by Peter Bush, well known for his extensive work on Juan Goytisolo. He has also completed translations of Daniel Chavarria, Nuria Amat and Pedro de Alarcón.

(Information taken from Bitter Lemon Press and Canongate Books Ltd.)

See also: Leonardo Padura talks about Mario Conde

Leonardo Padura at Wikipedia in English.

Leonardo Padura en Wikipedia in Spanish

La información sobre Leonardo Padura y sus libros en español está disponible en la página de Tusquets Editores.

3 thoughts on “The Alphabet in Crime Fiction, P is for Padura, Leonardo Padura”

  1. >José Ignacio – I like your choice for the letter "P." I have to admit, the Inspector Conde series is new to me, although I know about it. Your post, though, is making me want to try it. Thanks 🙂

  2. >Good choice for a P-post. You have reminded me that I have "Havana Red" on my shelf, and I ought to read it for the global reading challenge, but I have a feeling it will demand some concentration so perhaps for the summer holidays.

  3. >Margot, Dorte, thanks for your comments. Padura makes you feel day to day life in La Habana and the joy of living of their inhabitants under very difficult circunstances. A masterful chronicle of the failure of socialism.

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