cover image Last Seen in Havana

Last Seen in Havana

Teresa Dovalpage. Soho Crime, $27.95 (360p) ISBN 978-1-6412-9539-0

Mercedes Spivey is haunted by images of her long-departed mother, Tania, in this bighearted entry in Dovalpage’s Havana Series (after Death Under the Perseids). As a child in her native Cuba, Mercedes felt abandoned by Tania, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances when Mercedes was very young. A short time later, her father was deployed to Angola to fight in that country’s civil war and killed, leaving Mercedes to be raised by her paternal grandmother. Now living in Miami, Mercedes returns to Havana to care for her grandmother in the crumbling villa where her family once lived. The return to Cuba revives Mercedes’s interest in resolving her mother’s disappearance, and as she follows the little evidence available to her, she begins to wonder if her mom might still be alive. Told in chapters that alternate between Mercedes’s perspective in the present day and Tania’s in the early 1980s, the novel adroitly juxtaposes Mercedes’s unwavering devotion to finding the truth with Tania’s slow slide from idealism to disillusionment as Castro’s socialist regime falls short of its promises. Armchair travelers will savor Dovalpage’s detailed depiction of Cuba, and the heartbreaking ending will stay with readers long after they turn the last page. Dovalpage delivers the goods. (Feb.)