All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Havana Bay – Martin Cruz Smith

on December 13, 2010

Havana Bay is the fourth novel in Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels. The first, Gorky Park, is a well known book that was made into a well known film. I haven’t read any of the previous Arkady Renko novels (they’re set in Russia, this book is set in Cuba, which is why I chose it) but I quickly realised you don’t exactly need to.  I didn’t ever really feel like I was ‘missing out’ or that I didn’t know what was going on because I hadn’t read any of the previous 3 books. This may’ve been helped by the fact that this one was set quite far away from Russia and therefore any people who appeared in the previous books didn’t appear in this one.

In the beginning of the novel, Russian investigator Arkady Renko has received a letter about a friend of his, a Russian diplomat stationed in Cuba, possibly being in trouble. When Renko arrives in Cuba, he is standing by when Cuban authorities pull a body out of the water. Because the body has been in the water some time (about 2wks I think) identification is not an easy process. Based on some very vague terms, the body is declared to be that of his friend’s but Arkady isn’t entirely convinced. He thinks it was very odd for a Russian to be out fishing in the bay at night (inside a large inflatable tube-type thing) and is wondering if there isn’t something else going on. Although due to fly out that night, Arkady’s plans take a sharp swerve when the interpreter who has been translating for him and showing him around, tries to kill him.

Interestingly enough, when Arkady was attacked he was preparing to end his own life with a syringe filled with air that he stole from the coroner’s lab that day while watching the autopsy done on the body that was pulled from the water. He uses the syringe to defend himself instead, perhaps indicating that he wasn’t quite ready to die despite his extreme depression over the death of his wife due to an incompetent nurse. Now rather, Arkady finds himself determined to stay in Cuba and find out exactly what is going on – he was due to fly out of Cuba in less than a couple of hours, so why are people trying to kill him? What exactly was his friend investigating during his time in Cuba? Arkady starts his own investigation, complicated by aggression and distrust of Russians from the local authorities, attempts on his life (numerous), an attraction to a female Cuban police officer and a score of other locals, including two from the FBI most wanted list.

Arkady is depressed, dearly missing his wife and grieving over the injustice and preventability of her death when he arrives in Cuba. This makes him darkly brooding and also carrying a lack of respect for his own life, until someone else tries to take it from him. Thankfully this is all explained very coherently and you’re not really left wondering why Arkady is wandering around all woe is me and you get the depth of his grief and love for Irina, all without even ever seeing her in this novel.  The attack on him kick starts him into living again, as he realises that things are afoot here that go much deeper than just a Russian spy (and not a very good one at that) apparently having a heart attack and dying out at sea while doing a spot of night fishing. Arkady starts investigating with the help of Cuban detective Ofelia Osorio, who starts to shadow him for ‘protection’ after he is nearly killed and then half beaten to death all in the space of 24 hours. Arkady knows that one of the other Cuban police officers, Sargent Luna, is in the goings on up to his neck but it’s going to be hard to prove.

And the goings on are numerous. I’ve never read a novel set in Cuba before and this one was quite a nice introduction to both the culture and the political state. Russians in Cuba weren’t exactly appreciated anymore after relations between the two countries soured and a huge part of the plot revolves around Cuba trying to renegotiate contracts with Russia for Russia to buy their sugar. Russia are refusing to pay the new prices so an apparently independent company from Panama has been called in to mediate, which was what Arkady’s friend from Russia was in the country investigating. The novel does a brilliant job I think of showcasing Cuba for all it is – richly cultured, simplistic (although perhaps not by choice) and mixing in the seedy tourists that come to romance the young girls, who offer themselves for a few American dollars. On one hand it’s painted as a paradise – the beach, friendly locals, fresh seafood, good weather, cheap and on the other it’s painted as a slum – poverty and corruption everywhere you look and attempts to sneak in some good old fashioned capitalism!

On the whole I enjoyed this novel a lot but I felt that it was perhaps a fraction too long. At 447 pages, I think probably 80-100 could’ve been trimmed with no real detriment to the plot. A lot of the time Arkady was just kind of sitting around thinking about things, or he was spending an age doing something that takes no time at all. It painted him as slow and methodical, thoughtful and without the kind of rash behaviour I’m used to from protagonists in these sorts of novels, but it did drag the story out quite noticeably. I am quite intrigued by Arkady now though and I’m going to go back and get Gorky Park and start from the beginning. I do dislike reading a series out of order and I’ve done it twice recently for the Global Challenge either because a later book was all that was available, or earlier books didn’t fit in with what criteria I needed to fill. However, both times, it’s led to me discovering series that interest me, so I am grateful!


Book #112 of 2010

This book concludes my 2010 Global Challenge! Yay!

The Medium Challenge
Read two novels from each of these continents in the course of 2010:
Africa: #1: A Change In Altitude, by Anita Shreve. Set in Kenya. #2 Tea Time For The Traditionally Built,by Alexander McCall Smith. Set in Botswana.
Asia: #1: The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani. Set in Persia/Iran. #2 February Flowers, by Fan Wu. Set in China.
Australasia: #1: Vodka Doesn’t Freeze, by Leah Giarratano. Set in Sydney, Australia. #2 The Denniston Rose, by Jenny Pattrick. Set in Denniston, New Zealand.
Europe: #1: Cold Granite, by Stuart MacBride. Set in Aberdeen, Scotland. #2 Silent in the Sanctuary, by Deanna Raybourn. Set in England.
North America (incl Central America): #1 Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood. Set in Toronto, Canada. #2 Havana Bay, by Martin Cruz Smith. Set in Havana, Cuba.
South America #1 Dying Gasp, by Leighon Gage. Set in Brazil. #2 Thursday Night Widows, by Claudia Pineiro. Set in Argentina.
Try to find novels from twelve different countries or states.

Wrap up post to come 🙂

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