Havana bay

by Martin Cruz Smith

Hardcover, 1999




New York Random House, 1999


In Havana, detective Arkady Renko of the Moscow police joins forces with beautiful Ofelia of the Cuban police to investigate the murder of a Russian diplomat. The protagonists find love while the reader gets an inside look at post-Cold War Havana.

User reviews

LibraryThing member viking2917
Arkady Renko might be my favorite fictional detective. Persistent, perceptive and morose, this time he's wearing his trademark fur coat in Havana.
LibraryThing member FlyingSinger
Arkady is back but not as good as Gorky Park
LibraryThing member patrickgarson
Smith is yet to scale the lofty heights of his classic, Gorky Park, but Havana Bay marks a strong recovery from the somewhat lacklustre Red Square that preceded it. This book sits more squarely in the mystery genre, but it's an excellent one; well-constructed, rendered and finished with a satisfying thump.

Investigator Renko finds himself in Cuba, trying to identify the body of his enemy-turned friend, Sergei Pribluda. Stalking through the ashes of his own personal life, and the ripe decay of the Russo-Cuban relationship, Arkady has to find meaning both internally and externally before he ends up dead one way or another.

I was relieved to like this. Gorky Park is solid gold in my opinion, as was its sequel, Polar Star. But Smith lost his way with Red Square. A hap-hazard and well-telegraphed plot seem more of a device to push Renko around than actual narrative. Havana Bay rectifies that error, indeed; its plot is one of the strongest points.

Smith's research drips off the page like sweat, and he puts it in service of a multi-layered narrative that juggles truth and fiction so adroitly it's hard to tell where one finished and the other began. It lends the central mystery an aura of - baffling - authenticity and an originality that's all too lacking in mysteries. Pribluda's death could only have happened in Cuba. Less successful is the shoe-horned romance- a relationship which would have worked perfectly well without any sex, but it's very short, and understandable in the context of what Smith wanted to do with Renko's character.

Renko himself, eternally depressed, dogged, curious, and morbidly humorous is becoming an old friend by now. Like an old friend, he existential plight lacks some of it piquancy it once did. Renko is at once a creature of and against the Soviet Union, and its dissolution seems to have sparked a similar aimlessness in him. The rich - and very Russian - emotions that originally propelled this literary Frankenstein (Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, and more rolled into one), has dissipated somewhat, and I'm not sure what will emerge once the smoke clears. Presumably we start to find out in the next book.

Nonetheless, he remains a wonderful protagonist; ever-human and generally as clueless as the reader is. The supporting cast is also built-up well: Smith has a real gift for not giving away to much when it comes to his characters. He understands that different people can play a host of roles at different times, and it always makes them believable, and oft-times sympathetic.

Judging Havana Bay by the standards of Gorky Park, it inevitably comes up short. But then, most books do. On its own merits, however, it's certainly a cut above the average mystery and if it's a little more firmly ensconced in the genre than some of the previous titles, well, the genre is richer for it.
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LibraryThing member timjones
My second book for 2013 was "Wolves Eat Dogs], in my view the best of Martin Cruz Smith's series about ex-Soviet detective Arkady Renko - and "Havana Bay" is the one book in the series I hadn't previously read. While it doesn't quite match "Wolves Eat Dogs", it's still very good.

Renko is a fish out of water anywhere outside Moscow, but doubly or triply so when plonked down in Havana, where (as usual) he gets beaten up, starts a new relationship, and solves a complex crime. There are times the travelogue aspect takes over a little too much, and (unusually for me) I figured out what was going on well before the end which reduced the tension somewhat, but on the plus side Renko's Cuban partner-in-crimesolving is a very well-realised character who could shoulder a series in her own right. Recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member awilson
I suggested to my wife that her book club read this. Hardly anybody liked it but it was the most talked-about book they had read for a year! It's provoking.
LibraryThing member dougwood57
Arkady Renko began his fictional career as a Soviet militia (police) investigator. By the third book in the series Red Square, the Soviet Union had collapsed - into the dustbin of history as it were - and in the fourth installment he has traveled to Havana on his own dime to investigate the disappearance of an old `friend'. As the book opens, Renko is present at bay side when the Cuban police retrieve a grossly decayed body from the water. Is it Pribluda? And how has he died?

Renko, however, is distracted by his own more personal grief. Devastated by the death of his wife at the hands of incompetent Russian doctors, Renko prepares to kill himself in Havana. Just then Arkady is interrupted by Cubans trying to kill him, which rather oddly nudges him back toward life. He forms a liaison with beautiful Cuban detective Ofelia Osorio - a liaison which neither of them particularly desires. Russians are persona non grata in post-Soviet era Cuba, a country now cut off from its source of largesse.

Cuba seems shabby and run-down. We see otherwise good Communists dabbling in strange voodoo-like rituals. Nothing works very well, except perhaps the people (well some of them anyway). Old cars, iffy electricity, doubtful food supplies.

Renko and Osorio slowly unravel a complex web of intrigue. Along the way, Cruz Smith populates his book with various interesting characters including a wealthy ex-pat American (suggestive of Robert Vesco), a former black power American radical (modeled on William Lee Brent?), a homicidal police detective, and an ingenious, but devious pathologist. A plot if afoot to make a killing, millions of dollars and more, but how high does it go?

Good fun for fans of Arkady Renko, even if it is not the best book in the series.
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LibraryThing member bfister
Arkady Renko, with little left to lose, tries to find out what happened to an old enemy found dead in Havana Bay. Wonderful juxtaposition of a post-Soviet Russian's experiences with its former ally, now struggling to manage on its own. Really fine.
LibraryThing member repb
A wonderful trip through Havana, post the Revolution. Fidel is still in control although a reclusive creature. Arkady is there tracking down what happened to an old comrade or his and has his usual, complicated way of dealing with things. The descriptions of Havana and its people are marvelous. The only complaint I have is I found the story a bit over complicated and I was having a bit of trouble tracking who was doing what to whom and why. But still an excellent read.… (more)
LibraryThing member DrLed
Synopsis: Arkady has come to Cuba to identify the body of a friend/colleague. He is having issues with this because it isn't know if the man was a spy or really was working on trade agreements. However, Arkady is suspicious and wonders just how his friend had a 'heart attack.' More confusion ensues as Arkady learns about further intrigues.
Review: Every bit as good as Gorky Park, I was thoroughly enamored with this book until the ending. It was dropped as if the author ran out of things to say.
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LibraryThing member kerns222
Smith likes strange ways to die. He likes drippy autopsies. He wants exotic. Probably tries to sell movie rights before he finishes chapter one. Nothing wrong with that, but I like my murders the old fashioned way. Straight and simple with a detective who enjoys his meals and a nice walk. Some of you know who I mean.
LibraryThing member tmph
Just started. Fun to be with Arkady again.
And, indeed, another very good Arkady Renko novel. Fascinating view of post-Soviet Cuba and their distaste, and hatred, of the Russians. Awfully timely with the US opening up relations with Cuba.
As usual, great characters, often moving and deeply drawn.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheWasp
When the body of a man assumed to be Pribluda, a russian spy, is found floating in Cassablanca Harbour, his friend and russian investigator, Arkady Renko is sent to Cuba to identify him and return his body to Russia. Unfortunately somebody does not want Renko investigating.
I was engaged with this story from the beginning although was a bit confused with the ending. I find Renko a likeable character and have enjoyed reading his earlier exploits and look forward to moving on to "Wolves eat Dogs"… (more)


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