Conde, from the Havana Gold series, has been out of the police force for 8 years, and is earning his living collecting and selling used books via a bookstore owned by a friend. But apparently it is OK for him to be called in on police investigations. His friend and ex sidekick Manolo has asked Conde to look into a cold case: human remains have been found buried on the grounds of Hemingway’s estate (now a museum). The victim had been shot and buried under an ancient mango tree that was uprooted in a recent storm.
The novel is structured as intercuts between Conde’s investigation in 2000 and Hemingway’s life in late 1958 in the days leading up to the fateful event. As a murder mystery this works really well, but that’s not what Padura is after: he has had a love-hate relationship with Hemingway for decades, and this novel gives him a chance to examine that relationship and Hemingway’s life and legacy. That works pretty well, too.
Padura paints a pretty unflattering picture of Hemingway - not just the elderly, sick Hemingway, but the entire Hemingway mythos. He shot too many animals for no reason, he betrayed everyone who ever helped him, he was never able to forge a genuine relationship between equal partners, he was full of himself. To really stick the dagger in, Padura makes the case that Hemingway had little imagination, and had to live his adventurous life in order to gather material for his books.
But by the end, Padura (or Conde) seems to come to terms with Hemingway and acknowledges, sort of, that he had his good points, and that he was a remarkable writer. Sort of.
Readers of The Man Who Loved Dogs may recall Padura´s bitterness over the murder of José Robles during the Spanish civil war. Robles was a leftist supporter of the Spanish republic, and John Dos Passos´ translator while Dos Passos was in Spain, and was executed by the Soviet NKVD because he wasn´t toeing the line. Here, in Adiós Hemingway Padura reminds us that Robles´ execution was what led to the lifelong falling out between Hemingway and John Dos Passos who, because of the cynicism displayed by Soviet sympathizers of the time, moved rightward politically, and eventually became right-wing enough to be a supporter of Barry Goldwater. The Robles affair is mentioned only in passing in both of the Padura novels, but it is clear that Padura gives it great importance, mostly as an example of the brutality of Stalinism.
Adiós Hemingway is a quick and mostly enjoyable read. As the author points out in his introduction, you have to take everything in it with a grain of salt: fact and fiction are freely intermixed. But it does give a sense of Hemingway´s last weeks in Cuba, and a mostly thoughtful perspective on Hemingway´s work and life.