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by Jose Latour
McClelland & Stewart, February 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 077104660X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Just before Batista fell from power and the Cuban revolution triumphed, a shrewd government functionary managed to transfer a lot of his ill-gotten cash to the United States, where he followed it in short order. But he left behind a fortune in diamonds, hidden in his Havana apartment, that he expected to recover once the Revolution was suppressed.

That day never comes, and on his death bed he entrusts his secret to his son, who is not sure whether his father was telling the truth or inventing a typical exile fantasy. He is a veteran blinded in the Viet Nam war and thus in no position to find out, so he enlists the help of his best friend, another Viet veteran, to go to Havana and search for the treasure.

Accompanied by a woman posing as his Argentinean wife and pretending to be Canadian, the vet insinuates himself into the household of the present occupants of the apartment, Elena, a teacher of handicapped children, and Pablo, her brother.

The intrusion is easy enough. Pablo is both greedy and dishonest and hopes to take the 'Canadians' for as much as possible. Elena is sweetly innocent and accepts them for what they say they are. But very rapidly, bodies begin to mount up as rival interests struggle to take possession of the treasure.

Through the police investigation that follows the killings (stranger murders are rare in Cuba), we get fascinating glimpses of the workings of daily Cuban society, with its officious neighbourhood overseers and its spontaneous warmth and willingness to help.

This is Jose Latour's second novel to be written in English but his seventh book. He writes from the perspective of a recent immigrant to Toronto, where his path was smoothed by another ex-pat, Peter Robinson, and he writes without political animus.

Though this is certainly an effective noir thriller, what is most striking about it is the complicated feelings of the exiled author for his native city, his yearning for what is best about Cuba and his unsentimental notation of what is worst. Canadians in their thousands holiday at Cuban resorts every winter. Their visits would be enriched by seeing through Latour's eyes what life is like beyond the beaches. Americans, who are not fortunate enough to be permitted such holidays, would benefit even more from some exposure to ordinary Cubans.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, February 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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