Havana Bay: A Novel
|Author:||Martin Cruz Smith|
The body, at least what was left of it, was drifting in Havana Bay the morning Arkady arrived from Moscow. Only the day before, he had received an urgent message from the Russian embassy in Havana that his friend Pribluda was missing and asking that he come.
The Cubans insisted that this corpse floating in an inner tube was Pribluda, but Arkady wasn’t so sure.
“You don’t investigate assault, you don’t investigate murder. Just what do you investigate?” Arkady asks Ofelia Osorio, a detective in the Policía Nacional de la Revolución. “Or is it simply open season on Russians in Havana?”
The comrades of the Cold War have parted bitterly, and the Russians who used to swarm through Havana’s streets are now as rare as they are despised, much more so than Americans.
Havana is overrun with color, music, and suspicion. The Revolution’s heroes have outlived idealism. The Com-munist world has shrunk to Cuba. Paradise has become a stop on sex tours. It is a city of empty stores and talking drums, Karl Marx and sharp machetes, where an American radical rides around in Hemingway’s car to tout island investments and a Wall Street developer on the run from the FBI flies a pirate flag.
“A dead Russian, a live Russian,” Ofelia says. “What’s the difference?”
But the dead Russian is followed by the murders of a Cuban boxer and a prostitute. Although none of them is supposed to be investigated, Arkady cannot be stopped. He speaks no Spanish, knows nothing about Cuba, and, as a Russian, is a pariah. However, there is something about this faded, lovely, dangerous city—the rhythms of waves against the seawall, the insinuation of music always in the air, and, finally, Ofelia herself—that plunges Arkady back into life.
In this fourth book in Martin Cruz Smith’s splendid series, an amiable Irish American gangster explains to Arkady Renko what he and the other 84 wanted Americans hiding out in Cuba do with themselves. “We try to stay alive. Useful. Tell me, Arkady, what are you doing here?” “The same,” says Renko—and it’s true. His life as a Russian cop has become so bleak and lonely that he takes any opportunity to shake things up, even spending his own savings to fly to Havana when an old colleague is found dead—floating inside an inner tube after night-fishing in Havana Bay. Renko sets out to make himself useful in this shabby, fascinating, haunted country whose inhabitants look on Russians with the cold disdain of survivors of a nasty divorce.
As he did so well in Gorky Park, Smith again makes Renko very much a classic Russian hero in temperament and tradition, but also the eternal outsider. He is at times close to the edge of despair—but his trip to Havana restores his natural curiosity and life force.
In this hot Havana, ripe with the fruity smell of sex, Renko keeps his Moscow overcoat on—until an equally idealistic and out-of-place young female cop gets him to loosen up. There’s an unusually complex plot, even for the sly strand-spinner Smith. He raises baffling questions: Why would a group of military plotters order illegal lobsters in a fancy restaurant and then not eat them? And his descriptions of Cuban life are dead-on, reminding us on every page what a superb stylist he is. —Dick Adler