Is foul play involved in the vanishing of a popular Cuban politician, or is it another kind of crime?
Havana police lieutenant Mario Conde awakes on January 1, 1989, with a pounding New Year’s Eve hangover and an uncomfortable assignment: the reported disappearance of Rafael Morín Rodríguez, a charismatic and influential politico in Cuba’s ruling nomenklatura. Rafael was last seen dancing with his trophy wife Tamara at a festive party. Conde’s discomfort stems from the fact that Tamara was the girl of his dreams. In fact, he’s never really gotten over her. Every stage of the probe is punctuated by nostalgic flashbacks—back in the day, Conde and his best friend Skinny Carlos hopelessly loved Tamara and her sister Aymara—followed by Conde’s self-recrimination over his current mediocrity. Tamara, at first evasive and unable to name any possible enemies of her husband, suddenly finds an address book full of potential leads. But Conde and his partner, oversexed sergeant Manuel Palacios, have a hard time following up on them. Everyone in Havana’s corridors of power throws smoke and red herrings into their path. A break in the case comes from the unlikely Comrade Fernández-Lorea, who’s “just like Al Pacino.”
Padura’s first Conde novel, though the third translated into English (Havana Black, 2006, etc.), features a political smoke-and-mirrors mystery wrapped in a dusky narrative of grim, sophisticated humor.