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LEONARDO PADURA: Grab a Snake by the Tail.       
BITTER LEMON PRESS 
£8.99  pages  160
16 June 2019

 ISBN: 9781912242177


         

Fans of acclaimed Cuban author Leonardo Padura and his Havana Quartet are in for a pleasant surprise.  The author has found a previously unfinished story, added some scenes and turned it into a novella that complements the Quartet and allows for the return of troubled Police Inspector Mario Conde.    Grab A Snake By The Tail may not be the best of the bunch by Padura but it has plenty of charm, some surprises and is always readable.  Hard core thriller purists will wonder whether Conde was needed to apprehend the murderer but the leisurely detours will be enjoyed by fans of the Havana Quartet.  These excursions are why Padura has been described as the greatest living writer in Cuba.   Grab A Snake By The Tail is an essential read because it presents a bruised hero walking the streets of a city that reflects his own confusion.

 

Police Inspector Conde is an impeccable liberal and, always willing to disapprove, a far from disinterested spectator of the life around him.  He is neither sexist nor racist but the language used to describe the women of his dreams and his experience in the Chinatown of Havana will not guarantee Padura approval amongst all European liberals.  The references to Chinamen who cannot sound the letter r are perhaps overdone.  But, as we all know, exotica can come with a price, and there is no doubt that Conde creates a different, edgy and far from comfortable world.   And for feminists there is the satisfaction of having a mutilated Jack the Ripper style victim who is not female.  Padura also makes it clear that Conde needs masturbatory relief.  Having a male detective hero indulge in the solitary vice almost makes a pleasant change.

 

The murder victim in Grab A Snake By The Tail is found lynched in his living room, as is his dog.  The reader will not only eventually recognise the importance of the scene to the denouement but also struggle to shake off what is a disturbing but memorable image.  Padura may not be as interested in the puzzle within this thriller as some readers might like.  His main concerns are the limitations of Cuban life and the search of his hero Conde for settled serenity.   But if the plot is uncomplicated, few readers should guess the identity of the murderer.  And if that is not enough, we have a useful teach yourself comparison between Chinese fatalism and African voodoo mystery.  

 

There is no doubt that modern day Cuba is a disappointment for Padura.   Devotees of the movie and Marxist masterpiece Soy Cuba will feel that the author forgets too easily what happened before Castro came along.   But the books of Padura are like Cuba itself, a mystery always complicated by the role of flawed human beings.  Havana and Police Inspector Conde are mirror images.  Both are cultured, shabby and well meaning yet are compromised by corruption and human weakness that remain impossible to outlaw.  Padura makes it clear that whatever the society or race, be it socialist, capitalist, feudal, European, Chinese or African, undeserved and often incomprehensible human suffering is a persistent and defiant infestation.

 

By Howard Jackson