THE CUBAN AFFAIR
By Nelson DeMille
Simon & Schuster, $28.99, 448 pages
In October 2015 author Nelson DeMille and his wife toured Cuba. Mr. DeMille made good use of his field research trip and in his new action-adventure novel “The Cuban Affair” we are offered his wry observations and running commentary on Cuba via his fictional character, Daniel “Mac” MacCormick.
Mac, a U.S. Army veteran who served as a combat infantry officer in Afghanistan, has settled in Key West, Florida. Mac, like Mr. DeMille’s other well-known character, John Corey, is an irreverent, laid back and wisecracking tough guy.
Like Ernest Hemingway’s Key West character Harry Morgan in his novel “To Have and Have Not,” Mac is a charter boat captain. And like Harry Morgan, Mac’s boat is hired for a trip to Cuba by some shady characters.
Ernest Hemingway looms large in this novel, as Mac discovers that the late, great writer is revered publicly in communist Cuba and there are statues, signs, T-shirts and photos of him in nearly every bar and restaurant he was said to have frequented when he lived there in the 1940s. So much so, that one Havana bar advertised proudly that Mr. Hemingway, “did not” drink there.
Mac’s adventure began when he received a call from a lawyer.
“I was standing at the bar in the Green Parrot, waiting for a guy named Carlos from Miami who’d called my cell a few days ago and said he might have a job for me,” Mr., DeMille writes in the opening of the novel. “Carlos did not give me his last name, but he had ID’d himself as a Cuban American. I don’t know why I needed to know that, but I told him I was Scots-Irish-English American, in case he was wondering.
“My name is Daniel Graham MacCormick — Mac for short — age thirty-five, and I’ve been described as tall, tan, and ruggedly handsome. This comes from the gay clientele in the Parrot, but I’ll take it. I live here on the island of Key West, and I’m the owner and skipper of a 42-foot deep-sea fishing charter boat called the Maine, named for my home state — not the American battleship that blew up in Havana Harbor, though some people think so.”
Mac goes on to describe his charter business as fishing for marlin, sailfish, tuna and sharks, as well as sightseeing and romantic sunset cruises. Whatever the customer wants, as long as it’s legal.
Along with Carlos, he meets a beautiful Cuban American woman named Sara Ortego and an older anti-Castro Cuban exile, Eduardo Valazquez. The three offer him and his first mate the chance to make a boatload of money, which would pay off his huge bank loan on the boat. His first mate, Jack Colby, is an Army veteran like Mac.
“Jack got screwed up in ‘Nam, and he’s still screwed up but in an old-guy sort of way, so my customers think he’s just grumpy, not crazy. His favorite T-shirt says: “Guns don’t kill people. I kill people.” Maybe he is crazy.”
Mac is asked to join a Yale University tour of Cuba with Sara, who offers the boat captain 50,000 dollars to also have his first mate take his boat to join a fishing tournament in Cayo Guillermo, Cuba.
“It was a favorite deep-sea fishing place of Ernesto,” Carlos tells Mac. “Hemingway, not Guevara.” Must be an old Cuban joke, Mac thinks.
In addition to the charter fee, she offers Mac two million dollars if he will travel with her on the tour and help her recover the 60 million dollars her Cuban grandfather banker hid in a cave in Cuba before he fled Castro’s revolution. Once they’ve recovered the money, her plan is to meet up with his boat and escape from the island with the loot. Mac and Jack sign on.
Carlos advises Mac not to draw attention to himself in Cuba. He explains to Mac that half of the Havana population are volunteer police informants called “los vigilantes,” or “los chivatos” — the finger pointers. These informants, members of the revolutionary watch committees, report on their neighbors and foreigners. Mac suspects that their Cuban tour guide was one of the chivatos, as he watched Mac and Sara closely and asked the Yale tour directors about them.
Mac describes the scene in Cuba, with dilapidated buildings and old cars from the 1950s on the street. To Mac it appears that progress on the island ended in 1959 when Castro took over. He notices that in the lobby of their hotel was a cocktail lounge that was occupied by a good number of cigar smokers. Mac sees the “Yalies” are horrified, but hey, he notes, it’s 1959. Get over it.
“The Cuban Affair” offers romance, adventure and an astute and amusing look at today’s Cuban communist police state.
• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.
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