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Hidden in Havana    by Josť Latour order for
Hidden in Havana
by Josť Latour
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Cuba, an isolated economy and political pariah that has remained off-limits to Americans for half a century, is a society that is largely unfamiliar to people in the United States, and it is now being painstakingly exposed in Hidden in Havana, a fascinating new mystery from Cuban-born (and Canadian resident) Josť Latour, an internationally known writer and Edgar award nominee.

Soon after the action begins, the relatively young and thoroughly resourceful Captain Felix Trujillo (of the Department of Technical Investigations) is dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of Pablo Miranda, an import-export company's $16-a-month office manager whose strangely mutilated body was found in a seedy section of Havana. After talking to Miranda's sister Elena (a $15-a-month special education teacher with whom Pablo shared a humble apartment in the heart of Havana), and after searching the dead man's bedroom, Trujillo learns that the ostensibly ordinary Pablo had been a rather busy and secretive fellow: cocaine, 43 pornographic videos, and a large stash of $2900 in American money all point to some possible clues to solving the murder. As Trujillo will soon discover, though, one corpse is only the beginning in the Miranda case.

At the same time, a few foreigners with a rather different interest in Pablo and Elena Miranda (especially the Miranda's rundown apartment) are becoming increasingly active, highly motivated by a long-held pre-Castro secret that promises huge dividends. As they intensify their relentless activities (and as Trujillo follows a murderer's trail that is increasingly complicated by more dead bodies), everyone involved in the sad case of Pablo Miranda is drawn into a complicated and dangerous environment in which betrayal, greed, and cleverness become the key words for survival.

Hidden in Havana, more than a finely plotted mystery with plenty of suspense and excitement, succeeds also as a compelling rendering of Fidel Castro's communist Cuba, an impenetrable and sadly struggling society that is further compromised by desperate scofflaws whose daily lives are dominated by corruption, deceit, and paranoia. This is a shocking portrait of Cuba that only an expatriate could have written and published (and then remained alive); Hidden in Havana, I think it is safe to assume, will not be on sale in Cuban bookstores (although it might be fun to send the Castro brothers their own personal copies, which the publisher ought to consider doing).

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