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Jan Mårtenson, Mord i Havanna (Murder in Havana)

Wahlström & Widstrand,  2009. ISBN: 9789146220732

Reviewed by Eric Dickens in SBR 2010:2


Private detective Johan Kristian Homan is the antithesis of the sleazy sleuth. He is a rather sophisticated and well-connected, if somewhat selfdeprecating, antiques dealer whose shop is right in the genteel middle of Gamla Stan in central Stockholm. Although his everyday life involves selling furniture and artefacts to the more well-off members of Stockholm society, he always manages to somehow get entangled in some murder mystery, often involving one of his clients or distant family members and acquaintances. There are a number of recurring features in the forty-plus Homan novels that Jan Mårtenson has published since the early 1970s, and these include food, drink and women. One special woman appears in the later books: Homan’s living-aparttogether girlfriend Francine, who is a member of Swedish intelligence and occasionally provides him, unofficially of course, with the odd tip or clue. And, then, there is Homan’s beautiful Persian cat Cléo, upon which he dotes. The food and drink are not to be wolfed down by the hyperactive detective on a street corner, but to be savoured and enjoyed in the comfort of homes or restaurants. So, there is quite a focus on the details of the food and drink that Homan, and his clients and contacts consume. We know, over the course of several Homan crime novels, that he likes dry Martini, fish and meat dishes and snacks of various sorts, which he quite often prepares himself, and also a solid choice of table wines. Each Homan novel contains a recipe that has featured in the novel; it is reproduced at the end of each book so that readers can try it out for themselves. History plays a part. Jan Mårtenson himself has been a leading figure in the United Nations and an observer of contemporary history. But he has a penchant for the eighteenth century, hence non-fiction books such as Drottningholm – The Palace By the Lakeside (1985) which focuses especially on the epoch of its aesthetic patron and initiator, King Gustav III. Although Mord i Havanna contains many episodes set in Stockholm, it is set partly on Cuba. Right from the first few pages there is a whiff of big money, mafia and the drugs trade – a far cry from Homan’s antique shop. The first chapter is a short, mysterious prologue, with a leading mafioso in Havanna vanishing into thin air as the dictator Batista is expelled from Cuba and the country, shot through with gangster crime, is being taken over by Fidel Castro in the late 1950s.The lead-in to the murder mystery proper is the funeral of Homan’s childhood piano teacher Rut Mandelbaum. Homan attends out of piety and nostalgia and meets several of her family at the meal afterwards, including her sister, her children, a nephew and a niece. As Homan’s girlfriend is going off to Cuba for an international conference on drug trafficking, he decides to accompany her for a holiday. Once there, plot kicks off. I shall avoid details that give the game away; suffice to say that there are chance meetings, glimpses of suspected trysts, double- dealing, hints of smuggling, dodgy identities, a will and much subterfuge. As you would expect from a book where someone is bound to die a violent death. Jan Mårtenson is a name that could soon feature alongside the several other Swedish crime novel authors who have gained a reputation in English translation.


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