“Everyone knows that even the best battle plans fall apart as soon as the first shot is fired. Then it’s improvisation, instinct and initiative that save the day”. Daniel Graham “Mac” MacCormick’s words in Nelson DeMille’s latest thriller, “The Cuban Affair” prove to be insightful and foreshadowing in this well-written novel.
In his twentieth novel, DeMille has created a new character in Mac, a thirty-five year old owner and captain of a 42 foot fishing charter boat in Key West, Florida, and a military veteran of the Afghan War. He is content with his life, spending most days on the water but leaving plenty of time to drink and womanize, yet he is a little bored and a lot broke. When he is visited by a Cuban-American lawyer whose clients want to offer him some adventure and a boatload of money (pun intended), he can’t help but listen to the deal.
Eduardo Valazquez and the lovely Sara Ortega offer him a fortune to participate in an adventure to Cuba in order to recover $60 million and millions more in land deeds that were hidden in a cave by her father, before he fled the country during the 1959 Cuban Revolution. She also promised to bring home something of even greater importance if their mission was successful. The possibility of scoring $2 million, coupled with the potential of scoring with Sara Ortega was too much to refuse, and Mac was nodding yes blindly.
Once in Cuba, under the guise of being part of an educational tour, they were to meet with a contact, collect their haul, and use Mac’s boat to return to Florida. The fly in their ointment is a communist regime in Cuba which doesn’t take kindly to Americans. Set mainly in Havana, DeMille uses his observations from the time he spent there to paint a word picture of a country in turmoil, where the government militia rules all and demands compliance. It’s a place where neighbors turn on each other and police informants outnumber the police themselves. The country seems stuck in a time warp, where not much progress has been made since the 1959 revolution. For Mac and Sara, this means they have plenty of rules to follow as “tourists”, and deviation from procedure can land them in a Cuban prison or in front of a firing squad. The plot begins to drag a bit, as DeMille takes us on a tour of Havana in a nonfiction kind of way, and Mac and Sara struggle to make any progress with their plans. Paranoia is a common theme here however, and we begin to wonder who is going to turn on whom. The Cuban tour guide, Antonio, is shady, interested in Sara, and possibly on the take. Sara is so secretive that we can only think she is either not in the know, or up to her own agenda. Meanwhile, Mac is stuck in the middle wondering if he will make it out of Cuba rich, or in a body bag, or not at all. “Being captain of your own fate doesn’t mean you always make good decisions”, and he begins to wonder why he signed on for this, as he sees his exit window slowly closing
I’ve always been a fan of DeMille’s storytelling abilities. His novels are so easy to follow, and there is a natural flow and progression to his plots. His characters are always so well developed and relatable that you don’t have to wonder what their next step will be. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover all of that in this novel. The pages did turn themselves, but I didn’t feel like I really knew Mac or Sara at all. Perhaps I was comparing Mac to a lesser version of my favorite DeMille character John Corey, who appeared in many of his novels. They are alike in many ways (maybe too many) and until the end, I didn’t feel the suspense that I’m accustomed to with DeMille. It’s certainly not all bad, and I am probably nitpicking because of the high bar DeMille has set for himself. In fact, one trait that I love about Mac are his contradictory thoughts throughout the book that remain unspoken, like when Sara is talking about Cuba and says “I’d like to come back here someday” and Mac says to himself “I’d like to get out of here tonight”.
I can still recommend “The Cuban Affair” as a great read, and I’d like to see these characters again. I think some more time spent with them will have me liking them even more. Reserve your copy at any of our local libraries and know for yourself if Mac and Sara created an international affair in Cuba, a romantic affair, or both!