Novelist Martin Cruz Smith is a master of atmosphere. Moscow detective Arkady Renko has been sent to Cuba to investigate the strange death of an informant found dead from unknown causes (heart attack?) as if fishing in the common fashion floating in an inner tube on Havana Bay. A most unlikely activity for this one-time Russian acquaintance who has been looking for impropriety and kickbacks in the sugar industry. Possible diplomatic disaster for Moscow/Cuba/Panama.
The unofficial investigation brings Arkady into contact with an association of former Angola war heroes who are intent upon burying the memory and activities of the deceased, and particularly as they pertain to a dusty former hotel on the bay shore with promising and lucrative casino development prospects. Would Castro ever countenence this tempting return of American rhythms to the Island?
Enter an unscrupulous American developer with another securities defrauder both on the lam from the States.
The tale is full of the feeling of Havana - the misbehaving tourists, the teenage prostitutes, the insanely exquisite cigars, the fresh-grilled foods, the ubiquitous music, the dilapidated fifties buildings, the miraculously maintained fifties luxury cars and the African-Caribbean passtime of voodoo religion, "santeria". And over it all the ghostly comings and goings of the Commandante in army fatigues and sunglasses, the one who has shaped all reality, power and fears for over five decades (Fidel)
I passed all of this by Cuban friends at my workplace. It is a very realistic representation, they tell me. They also tell me that there is very evident competition, if not an even draw, between the iconoclasm of Roman Catholicism (Santa Barbara and others) and voodoo (the militaristic "Chango") for the hearts and spirits of the people. A people struggling in a perverse sort of angry time warp with little hope of honest advancement.