Posted: November 6, 2014 in Book Awards, review, USA

havanarequiem4Paul Goldstein is a Stanford University law professor specialising in intellectual property law. Havana Requiem is his third book featuring Michael Seeley and it won the Harper Lee prize for legal fiction in 2013. Professor Goldstein is in good company as the award which began in 2011 has also been won by best selling authors John Grisham [winner in 2011 and 2014] and Michael Connelly [winner in 2012]. 

Recovering alcoholic Michael Seeley has been reinstated in his position as a partner in the New York law firm of Boone, Bancroft and Meserve after a series of mishaps related to his drinking in the previous book in the series. An elderly Cuban composer Hector Reynoso is sent to him by an old friend Hector Devlin aged 89. Hector represents a group of Cuban musicians and composers who wish to recover the copyright of their music which dates back to the 1940s and 1950s. The music has become popular due to the movie Buena Vista Social Club, and is played as jingles to advertise products such as frozen tacos and rum. Royalties from their music now brings in millions of dollars, but the composers receive nothing. Seeley and his Spanish speaking associate Elena Duarte divide up Seeley’s current workload, and Seeley is surprised when the music publishers agree to a waiver that allows him to represent the hlpcomposers.

Hobart ‘Hobie’ Harriman arranges for Seeley to meet with Evernham and Company bankers, who offer Seeley a mysterious and very wealthy client if he desists from pursuing the claim for the Cubans. The reader is told Evernham are the type of bank who have clients not customers. Reminding me of the reverse message, when a health minister told dentists working for the English NHS [public health dentistry] that we no longer had patients, but now had customers and consequently less status and remuneration.

Hector Reynoso then disappears, and Seeley travels to Cuba to obtain the signatures of the musicians/composers before an upcoming legal deadline. In Cuba the descriptive writing brings the reader close to the rhythms of Africa, Cuban culture, the heat, the crumbling colonial architecture and the big old American cars. 

The candles gave off a lavender scent and the flickering shadows lent an impermanence to the room.

The dark hair that Seeley had only seen pulled back into the dancer’s severe bun, was down now, falling in curls over Amaryll’s shoulders, amazing in its thick abundance.

Seeley falls in love with the beautiful Amaryll, who symbolically drives a rickety Lada left behind by the Russians, and he becomes mixed up not only with the security police but the US State Department. 

2014-Jan-Cuba-001-242-1024x678This is an excellent book, and the characters such as the slimy ‘Hobie’ Harriman are memorable mostly as a contrast to the honesty of Amaryll, and the struggling people of Cuba. The narrative is intense and emotional taking the reader from the smart law offices, and squash courts of New York to the dismal security police prison cells and rough justice of Havana. 

“Government ?” Amaryll laughed. ‘ That is an American fantasy! There is no government here.

Fidel is a ghost. Raul is the ghost’s brother. There are just the police, who make Linares Cordina’s life a misery, and the security police , who Onelio and the others worry about.

The rest is just stories about the revolution that old white men at the Plaza de la Revolucion tell to each other. That and their dreams. But no government.


Cuban society is portrayed, perhaps harshly I don’t know enough about it, as a country blighted by racism, poverty and corruption, and the lawyers, bankers and mysterious holding companies back in the US are no better.

Paul Goldstein has brought the dry subject of intellectual property law into the world of legal thrillers with a great deal of success, while giving the reader some moral questions to consider.

Hobie was the force that brought people together with the trappings of power and pleasure.

Seeley said, ‘Who’s going to represent this kind of client if we don’t?”

” They can go to Legal Aid.”  

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – So glad you enjoyed this novel. I think Goldstein has a lot of talent as a writer, and you’ve reminded me that I want to get back to his work. An excellent review as ever, for which thanks.

  2. Bill Selnes says:

    Norman: Good review. I equally thought it was a good book and can appreciate why it won the Harper Lee Prize. Since reading Havana Requiem I have also read another book in the series, A Patent Lie, and hope to come across the third in a bookstore soon.

  3. tracybham says:

    Very nice review, Norman. I find Cuba fascinating and like to find crime fiction set there.

  4. Norman Price says:

    Margot thanks, I will look out for more books by Paul Goldstein.

    Bill, thanks. I must admit I do like legal thrillers and TV programs like LA Law, The Good Wife and Silk. I hope Paul Goldstein gives readers more of Michael Seeley.

    Tracy thanks, have you read Leon Padura’s Mario Conde series, which I think is going to be on BBC radio some time soon?

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