A review by Tim Swanson for The Sacramento Bee.
In the late 1980s, as the Soviet Union was collapsing and the flow of aid to Cuba became a trickle, the island nation entered an era of extreme poverty and isolation euphemistically called “The Special Period in Time of Peace” by Fidel Castro’s government.
While the country struggled to feed its people, a Cuban author named Leonardo Padura began searching for a way to address “the biggest problems of society: corruption, repression, hypocrisy, ideological erosion, opportunism and poverty,” as he later told the New Yorker. To do this, he turned to an unlikely genre: the detective novel.
Largely associated with postwar America, the detective novel had become surprisingly popular in Cuba, at one point representing as much as 40 percent of the books published there. However, the gumshoes in those works mostly were mouthpieces for the Communist government –…
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