Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but what about a woman merely suspicious? What starts as an unsettling domestic suspense becomes a bizarre and bent psychological mystery. Clare is a sales rep for an elevator company. Her Midwest territory features mundane insurance office buildings and large hotels. But one night, she leaves her home in Florida to trace her husband’s footsteps across Havana, Cuba, during a film festival. Richard is a horror film critic who is there to cover a new, highly anticipated zombie movie. The only problem is, Richard is dead.
So who is Clare seeing? Did Richard fake his death to take up a new life — new wife — in Havana?
She stayed on the opposite side of the street until her husband carried the mango away in a brown paper bag. She darted across, ignoring the traffic signals, and trailed behind him. She was covert, allowing pedestrians to drift between. It was hot, and each person she passed on the street seemed to be emitting a slight glow.
A pair of long-backed dogs trotted away from tourists armed with cameras, disinterested in being turned into subjects. Clare was terrified to take a photo — that brief freezing of time would shatter whatever reality she had slipped down into, that she would look up and find Richard was no longer there, the anguish of having chosen an image of a person over the person himself. ~ Pg. 71
She wanders the streets of the old city, looking for clues, and remembering a life that may have been less perfect than it seemed. Havana is a setting uniquely appropriate for a story like this. Antique, ornate buildings, brightly colored, crumbling behind their façades. A Caribbean island steeped in voodoo culture. A metropolitan city hosting a combination of modern arts and sciences.
The book reminds me of Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, set in a glorious and decaying Venice. There, a married couple tried to avoid a strange spate of crimes but follows a mysterious figure through the twisting allies of the city. Also like that short story, The Third Hotel doesn’t give the reader any sense of an ending.
As the days go by the lines between reality and imagination start to erase. The reader is getting the story through Clare so the narrative does too. Unfortunately the impressionistic clues the reader gathers in the first two-thirds dry up in the last portion. I do wish the author had given readers a bit more an ending, even a vague but suggestive one.
* Having recently been to Havana, I greatly enjoyed seeing how the setting was used. I was able to revisit the city through Clare’s locations and descriptions. It was lovely. *
My thanks to Farrar, Straus Giroux for the review copy.
by Laura van den Berg
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (August 7, 2018)
Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches