Havana Requiem by Paul Goldstein – Michael Seeley has returned to Boone, Bancroft, the large New York City law firm that dismissed him because of his descent into a gin bottle. Sober for a year, he is rebuilding his intellectual law litigation practice principally in the worlds of entertainment and publishing. Seeley has long been known for representing the interests of artists, famous or unknown, with regard to the legal rights related to their work.
Hector Reynoso, an aged Cuban musician, arrives in Seeley’s Manhattan office seeking to have Seeley represent him in re-gaining the rights to his music that he surrendered decades earlier. A chance to help a composer musician becomes the opportunity to aid a culture when Reynoso advises he is there on behalf of the Cuban composers of his generation – the men who made and played music before the Cuban Revolution of 1957.
There is but a narrow window for them to pursue the return of their music. Under American law they can serve terminations of the original contracts but there is a finite time from the creation of the music and that limitation period is about to expire for these men.
Earlier in his career Seeley had flourished generating large fees for the firm from wealthy clients and personal satisfaction from pro bono cases on behalf of struggling artists.
Reynoso explains the music of himself and his friends is not the music of the Buena Vista Social Club. It is the music of black Cubans inspired by their African past. It is the music of men who were banned from the best clubs in Cuba because of their dark skin. Goldstein sets out the racism deep in Cuban society.
Their songs were the pop music of their era and are still appreciated by lovers of Latin music and used extensively in advertising. Millions of dollars in royalties are being paid each year but not to the composer musicians.
Seeley’s adrenaline surges as he realizes the case is a return to the excitement of his law student days when he helped Professor Felix Silver successfully challenge the U.S.S.R. which, having seized ownership of the writings of four Russian authors, went to court in America seeking to use copyright law to prevent the publication of the writings. Now he has an opportunity to aid artists of another totalitarian regime take ownership of their music.
His partners have mixed emotions about his quest. Hobie Harriman, recently of the U.S. State Department, leads the opposition. He argues these poor old men are not the clients a rising big firm wants to represent and the firm should pursue the representation of big business. After a close vote Seeley is allowed to proceed.
What looks straight forward becomes mysterious and complex when Reynoso disappears from New York City.
Seeley travels to Cuba to get the necessary documents signed by the Cubans. With Americans officially barred from direct travel to Cuba he flies to Canada so he can get to Cuba.
He finds in Cuba a faltering socialist state. Corruption is rising and most of the people are very poor. Goldstein provides a vivid portrayal of a country in decay.
Complications arise immediately on his arrival. Powerful shadowy forces are opposed to the return of the music. The strongly principled Seeley persists.
Who knew copyright law could be the subject of a thriller? Goldstein has created an exciting story about the ownership of music. It is a book that melds music, race, international politics and money with copyright law.
Seeley is a talented lawyer but his private demon, alcohol, still taunts him in times of stress.
I can easily understand why Havana Requiem won the 2013 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. It is a much better book than The Wrong Man by David Ellis which was the other book on the shortlist I have read.
I appreciate a regular commenter to this blog, kathy d., who encouraged me to read the book.
There are two earlier Michael Seeley books. I am going to have to go find them.