The Crime Fiction Alphabet arrives this week to the letter “p”. And my P is for Padura. Leonardo Padura, who was born in Havana, took a degree in Latin American literature at the University of Havana. He wrote his first short novel between 1983 and 1984, Fiebre de caballos (Horse Fever), which was basically a love story. Padura is best known in the English-speaking world for his quartet of detective novels featuring lieutenant Mario Conde, Las cuatro estaciones (The four seasons). The novels are:
- Pasado perfecto (Havana Blue, 2007), 1991
- Vientos de cuaresma (Havana Gold, 2008), 1994
- Mascaras (Havana Red, 2005), 1997
- Paisaje de otoño (Havana Black, 2006), 1998.
These books are set respectively in winter, spring, summer and autumn (Vientos de cuaresma literally means Lenten Winds and Paisaje de otoño, Autumn landscape. Paisaje de otoño won the 1998 Spanish Hammett Prize. Padura has published three subsequent books featuring Conde, the novella Adiós Hemingway (Padura’s first book to be translated into English, in 2005), La neblina del ayer, literarily The Fog of Yesterday (Havana Fever) and La cola de la serpiente (The Snake’s Tail).
Pasado perfecto (Havana Blue): On the first weekend of 1989, Mario Conde is woken from sleep into hangover reality by the insistent ringing of his telephone. The Old Man, his boss at headquarters, is calling about an urgent case he has to take on. Rafael Morín, the boss of an import-export firm, has not come home after the New Year’s celebrations. As it turns out, the missing man is an ex colleague of Conde from their student days at Pre. The man in question had a reputation for discipline and an enviable record even then, but above all, he had made Conde jealous by stealing Tamara´s love from him. Confronted once again by his adolescent love, Conde discovers that the perfect past upon which Rafael Morín has based his brilliant career has some suspicious elements worthy of investigation.
Vientos de cuaresma (Havana Gold): In the infernal days of the Cuban spring when the hot southern winds arrive, coinciding with Lent, Lieutenant Mario Conde, who has just met Karina, a beautiful and dazzling woman with a liking for jazz and the saxophone, is handed a delicate investigation. A young chemistry teacher from the same University where El Conde had studied years ago has been found murdered in her apartment, where traces of marihuana are found as well. Through the investigation of the life of the professor with an unpolluted academic and political record, El Conde enters a world that is decomposing, where social climbing, the traffic of influences, the consumption of drugs and fraud reveal the dark side of contemporary Cuban society. Meanwhile, the Lieutenant, in love with the beautiful and unexpected woman, lives days of glory without imagining the devastating outcome of the love story.
Mascaras (Havana Red): In the dense undergrowth of the Havana Forest on the 6th of August, the day in which the Church celebrates the Transfiguration of Jesus, the corpse of a transvestite is discovered, with a red silk ribbon of death around her neck. To add to Conde’s investigation difficulties, this “woman” dressed in red, who is “without the benefits of nature”, is actually Alexis Arayán, the son of a respected diplomat of the Cuban regime. The investigation begins with Conde’s visit to the extraordinary Marqués, a man of letters and the theatre, a homosexual who has been exiled within his own country to a ruined old mansion. Marqués is described as an eccentric wizard, a saint-like, cultured, intelligent and astute man, ironic and tremendously refined. Conde gradually enters the seedy world into which Marqués introduces him, a world inhabited by beings who appear to know the whole truth about Alexis Arayán… But within such a labyrinth, where will Conde find his own truth?
Paisaje de otoño (Havana Black): One autumn night, some fishermen discover a corpse on Chivo Beach, in Havana. The victim, Miguel Forcade Mier has been brutally murdered and abandoned in a nearly indescribable state. This crime will regenerate an old conspiracy loaded with corruption and frustrated ambitions. Forcade had officially been in charge of the expropriation of artistic valuables that had been requisitioned from the middle classes after the revolution. Having accumulated power, influential contacts and possibly a great deal of envy and resentment, in 1978 Forcade decided, for no apparent reason, to seek exile in Miami. However, shortly before his murder, he had inexplicably returned to Cuba, as if to recuperate something very valuable of which only he had knowledge.
Adiós Hemingway: When the bones of a man murdered forty years earlier surface on the Havana estate of Ernest Hemingway, ex-cop and writer Mario Conde is called in to investigate. As he unearths the truth of the night of 3rd October 1958 he is forced to come to terms with a very different side to his former literary hero.
La neblina del ayer (Havana Fever): Havana, summer of 2003. Fourteen years have gone by since Lieutenant Mario Conde, disenchanted, leaves the police force. Many changes have taken place during those years in Cuba, but also in the life of Mario Conde. His interest in literature and the need to make a living have made him dedicate himself to the market of second-hand books. The discovery of a very valuable library situates him on the border of a very good business deal, good enough to solve his economic problems. In one of the books, however, he finds a magazine page where Violeta del Río, a singer of boleros from the 1950s announces her retirement at the peak of her career. He becomes attracted by her beauty, by the mystery of her retirement, and by the silence thereafter. Mario Conde – now older and with more scars on his skin and in his heart – begins an investigation without being able to imagine that, by following the trace of Violeta del Río, he will awaken a turbulent past that has been hidden from view, just like the magnificent library, for over forty years.
La cola de la serpiente (The Snake’s Tail): A few streets pretty much in ruins are all that’s left of Havana’s China Town. When the ex detective Conde enters it, he cannot help remembering that he had already been there years ago, in 1989. The irresistible lieutenant, Patricia Chio, had asked him to help her solve a strange case: the murder of Pedro Cuang, an old man that was found hung, with a finger cut off and a circle and two arrows etched on his chest. These were Santeria rituals that brought on the investigation of other neighbourhoods around the city. Conde discovered unexpected connections, secret businesses and a story of self-denial and disgrace that revealed the reality of many families of Asian emigrants and their sporadic contacts with Cubans. As the Chinese saying goes, he only had to find the snake’s tail to reach the head. In Conde’s comings and goings between past and present, in his loitering around a caotic city, we will breathe again the familiar air of the circle of friends, women, and dangers with which the Cuban detective will become involved.
Additional information at Bitter Lemon Press.
The 2012 Crime Fiction Alphabet is a Community Meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise. By Friday of each week participants try to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week. Click HERE to visit the contribution of other fellow bloggers.