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CRIME FICTION:Leonardo Padura Fuentes: the imperialist vulture and the making of Havana Noir

Havana Black: A Lieutenant Mario Conde Mystery (Mario Conde Mystery 2) Havana Black: A Lieutenant Mario Conde Mystery by Leonardo Padura Fuentes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I intend to write a more general review of the crime fiction of Leonardo Padura Fuentes on another occasion.While I'm no expert on Cuban literature I'm going back and forth between Padura and those fellow crime writes, unlike Padura, such as José Latour, who have turned their back on the revolution in order to get a feel for the fictional dialogue that is in motion.

And it is fascinating -- almost, in its own way, unique. If there is indeed a Havana Noir driven by evil and violence -- where is that coming from? What's its root source? I mean, what's the motivation for the criminal deeds?

If you are going to write crime fiction set in Cuba what crimes do you invent to tell your story?

I'm not suggesting that Cuba is free of crime but you'd expect the crime pattern to be a little different from what we may be used to in our comfortable capitalisms. What's also fascinating is how politically engaged these novels are in the way that their narratives are played out within the chronology of the Cuban experience -- the 1959 revolution, the relentless blockade, the Angolan war, Marielistas and the exile community in Miami, etc.

And bearing down, investing the cultural context with a very dark noir, is the impact of "the Special Period" and the consequential growth of income disparities and the Black Market.

So in a remarkable way, Cuba today is ripe for crime fiction because it is ripe for crime in the plebeian way it has not been for some time.

While we so often associate crime fiction with a sort of decayed cynical capitalism, wherein the state op or the PI explores crime as a symptom of a broader decay, in Cuba the same etiology prevails. And inasmuch as I've read enough stuff to make a ruling, inevitably the criminal experiences there -- both for real and in the writer's imagination -- are skewed by the refraction of Cuba's experience of the festering sore of imperialism which bears down upon the island like an opportunistic vulture -- performing at one and the same time the role as promised land and as brutal master who can so often only be embraced through some form of corruption.

This isn't so very hard to comprehend. Any Cuban knows that to survive in the belly of the neighbour to the north, you'll need gringo dollars and to accumulate those in Cuba ain't an easy ask.So what you see is this back and forth ambivalence in regard to the US threat and the US promise. It aint easy to primitively accumulate capital in Cuba so exile isn't a easy or necessarily clean way out of the rigors and deprivations of the "Special Period".

But embedded among all this is, in the case of Leonardo Padura Fuentes at least, is the frustrated aspirations of Cuba's 'lost generation' -- those like the post war baby boomers who enjoyed the fruits of the 59 revolution, only to yanker for more of what they cannot quite put their finger on. In that sense, Havana Noir -- esp Padura's novels of the Inspector Conde quartet -- panders to the frustrations and pessimism of a revolution now stuck in a sort of historical idle mode.

The Conde quartet -- the four seasons comprise:
  • Pasado perfecto ("Havana Blue", 2007), 1991
  • Vientos de cuaresma ("Havana Yellow", 2008)), 1994
  • Mascaras ("Havana Red", 2005), 1997
  • Paisaje de otoño ("Havana Black", 2006), 1998.

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