Readers: Spoiler Alert! This review does not reveal the murderer of Havana Red, but it does indicate who it is not.
Havana Red is the first mystery novel in Leonardo Padura's The Four Seasons Series. This novel is about Mario Contre, a detective working through the murder of a young gay man found in women’s clothes in an Havana park. Conte goes through the usual subjects, the victim's family and his one friend, an elderly gay playwright, exploring modern Havana in decline.
So much of a mystery novel is in convincing the audience that the city or other surroundings are rotten to the core. Havana, the major city of Cuba, a country in ruins, is a perfect place for a mystery novel, and Padura wisely uses this to his advantage.
But as someone who is pro-LGBT and interested in Latino Cultural Studies, I found myself disappointed by the depictions of the two gay Latino men in the novel. The victim is aimless and no longer gets along with his father, but is close with his mother and former nurse. The victim’s closest friend is Alberto Marqués, an elderly gay man who once wrote plays. By the time of the novel, he’s living in a large, falling down house. He is a creeper, watching the detective in intimate situations, and encouraging the homophobic things said against him. Throughout the novel, he’s the character that the audience can enjoy disliking and pin for the murder, even though he isn’t. Although there may be truth to these stereotypes, this is still just another novel that relies on old ideas about the gay community, and does little to subvert them.
As for the rest of the novel, it’s just boring. The detective is predictably broken and miserable, and works it out through creative writing. The novel takes a maddening detour near the end to feature a short story the detective writes. Even that short story is boring, and it draws out the conclusion of the novel. This novel needed serious trimming down and a rethinking of its cliches.