I read this because of the series on Netflix (Cuatro Estaciones en la Habana), of which Havana Gold was the first episode.
The author is clearly cynical and disillusioned about the state of the Cuban revolution: the corruption, the privations, the lack of hope for the future. The main character, Conde, is a Havana cop assigned to investigate the murder and possible rape of a young high school teacher. As the investigation proceeds, Conde learns that there had been a party at the teacher’s apartment, featuring both alcohol and marijuana. Apparently the presence of marijuana was a shocking thing, and naturally Conde assumes that the murder was connected with it. I was frankly surprised at how vehemently Conde and, presumably Padura, reacted to the use of cannabis - was there really so much opposition to cannabis in Cuba then? Now?
I can’t imagine that Padura’s novels are much liked by the Cuban political class. He is very cynical about the extent to which political connections enable the acquisition of wealth and influence; the large divide between the lives of the mass of people and those at the top of the political heap. In Padura’s view it seems that some are more equal than others.
It’s a side of Cuban life I would rather have not seen. From the outside it seems pretty understandable that Cubans have not prospered: a 55 year embargo and active economic sabotage by the US government was bound to have a negative effect on Cuban development. And it is all too easy to forget the terrible suffering of the great mass of people under the Batista regime. So I felt that Padura’s criticisms were just a bit one-sided. Natural enough, given that he lived through the crisis of the 90s, and probably went hungry along with most others.
As a murder mystery this works pretty well. There are a just a couple small leaps where evidence was lacking, but those gaps were partly filled in by reference to investigative work done by Conde’s partner, Manolo.
In all, a pretty good novel, interesting for its portrayal of 1990s Cuba, and an engaging main character.