Title: THE CUBAN AFFAIR
Author: Nelson deMille
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Daniel Graham MacCormick—Mac for short—seems to have a pretty good life. At age thirty-five he’s living in Key West, owner of a forty-two-foot charter fishing boat, The Maine. Mac served five years in the Army as an infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan. He returned with the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, scars that don’t tan, and a boat with a big bank loan. Truth be told, Mac’s finances are more than a little shaky.
One day, Mac is sitting in the famous Green Parrot Bar in Key West, contemplating his life, and waiting for Carlos, a hotshot Miami lawyer heavily involved with anti-Castro groups. Carlos wants to hire Mac and The Maine for a ten-day fishing tournament to Cuba at the standard rate, but Mac suspects there is more to this and turns it down. The price then goes up to two million dollars, and Mac agrees to hear the deal, and meet Carlos’s clients—a beautiful Cuban-American woman named Sara Ortega, and a mysterious older Cuban exile, Eduardo Valazquez.
What Mac learns is that there is sixty-million American dollars hidden in Cuba by Sara’s grandfather when he fled Castro’s revolution. With the “Cuban Thaw” underway between Havana and Washington, Carlos, Eduardo, and Sara know it’s only a matter of time before someone finds the stash—by accident or on purpose. And Mac knows if he accepts this job, he’ll walk away rich…or not at all.
WHAT I THOUGHT
They sure nailed this one when they pegged it ‘Suspense’. I was kept in suspense right through till page 374 before anything happened, which means Folks that right up until page 374, nothing happened.
I mean, nothing interesting that is!
Talk about building suspense, huh! You would have thought there was something special about this book that it took sooo long to get where it was going. So long, in fact, it’s taken me nearly 3 weeks to finish reading this plodding, sorry excuse for a novel.
Let’s start at the beginning with ruggedly handsome ex-military, Daniel ‘Mac’ MacCormick now living in Key West, Miami. Mac—the captain of a pleasure fishing boat—is approached by Carlos, a lawyer who, we are told is a hot-shot with anti-Castro groups based in Miami, offering Mac a ten-day fishing trip into Cuban waters. But with a twist, if he agrees, he will be paid 3 million to help Carlos and his group smuggle out $60 million right from under the Regime’s nose. Cue beautiful young Sara Ortega, a Cuban American, and the mysterious Eduardo Valazquez, and we have the ingredients for a great Cuban soap opera and, as the story unfolds, this is exactly what this feels like.
The paper-thin characters are so cliched it’s a joke. At one point, when Mac and Sara inevitably fall into the sack for the obligatory sex, I did wonder if the author was writing himself a little wish-fulfillment, given the characters had only known one another for less than a week. I mean, really?
The premise of this novel—if you read the back cover blurb—is one of action, adventure, intrigue, and yes, suspense. However, the execution (and I tell you, by the end of reading this convoluted drivel, I felt like I was at an execution) was one long drawn out exercise in mundanity. deMille has Mac and Sara traipsing around Havana with a sightseeing group from Yale—yes, Yale—their flimsy cover while in Cuba. And, in between the endless moments of false jeopardy, we’re inundated with one after another info dumps on the political climate of Cuba, and it’s sordid history. And don’t get me started on the endless references throughout to Hemingway, his work, and life. It became redundant really fast!
Add to that, the whole plot lacks any sense of credibility whatsoever. Midway through all the sightseeing Mac and Sara do stop at a prison where, we are told, a number of American service men died and were buried. A flimsy sub-plot ensues with our protagonists coming into possession of the remains of the dead to repatriate back to America. But like the rest of this novel, we never get to see ‘how‘ the bones are recovered, as everything happens off-stage. Everything is a mysterious slight-of hand. In other words, it was probably too much effort on the part of the author to actually show the ‘reality’ of digging up bones from a maximum security prison, even if this is Cuba we’re talking about, where guards can be bribed.
The dialogue is about the standard of an American soap opera, cliched and, at times, vulgar. Some of Mac’s quips and asides, which are supposed to be witty and funny, came across as making this 35 year-old ex-military vet sound juvenile. Sara, in support, seems to have very little to say beyond feeding the right lines to Mac, and instantly falling in love with him at the right moment. The only character who seem to have any sense of reality about him, is Jack, the grizzled Vietnam vet who crews Mac’s boat.
All-in-all, the standard of writing was uninspired and lacked plausibility, and the characters were trite flimsy cliches and, as such, it was impossible to care about who these people were and what happened to them. Meanwhile, the paradise setting of Cuba wasn’t used for more than a historical backdrop, and seemed a missed opportunity.