Greed makes you do things you shouldn’t do, things you know you should walk away from. But man! Three mill sounds good—especially when you’re about to hit middle-age and all you’ve got to show for it is a body-load of battle scars from Afghanistan, along with a crummy apartment, a heavily mortgaged fishing boat … and few prospects for much else.
Mac’s in that kind of a rut. He’s living out his life on Key West, when Carlos, a sharp-looking Miami lawyer offers him a chance to make some real money. Hired by Cuban American anti-castro groups, Carlos wants Mac to help his clients recover $60 million hidden in a remote cave outside of Havana. Stupid and too dangerous is what Mac thinks … until he meets the head of the mission, Sara Ortega. You know where this is going.
So. Mac accepts the mission, falls for Sara, and … WE’RE OFF!!
THE CUBAN AFFAIR is a good-time read—a heart-pounding adventure story with twists and turns, people who aren’t who they say they are, and plans that don’t go as they’re supposed to go.
What makes the book of interest is the insights into life under a repressive regime, where people watch one another, either intently with purpose or cautiously with fear. Politics are also on display: those who would gain from a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations and support it, versus those who have something to lose from a thaw and so fear it.
We also get a view of Cuban poverty, as well as the double-tiered system of high-end hotels and restaurants—for tourists and elite Cuban officials only. Regular Cubans—who earn the standard $20 a day—will never enjoy the luxuries, all of which must be imported because the Cuban economy is incapable of producing them. Cuba, in fact, barely manages to feed its own population.
Unfortunately, some of the Cuban references are overlong, bogging down the pace. DeMille, as he explained in his acknowledgments, visited Cuba as part of a Yale educational tour, and his descriptions have the feel of one of those friends who regales you with “what I saw on my summer vacation!” Some of it’s interesting, some not so much. And by the way: a Yale tour is part of the plot—as perhaps is DeMille himself, in the guise of one of the Yale tourists, a grumpy “famous author.”
Nelson DeMille is a top writer though maybe not at the top of his game here. Every author has a best book (for me it’s DeMille’s 1990 The Gold Coast), and while this is a terrific page-turner, it’s not his best. But if you do read it, I promise you’ll have good time. Mac and his first mate, Jack Colby, a Vietnam vet, make a winning duo—and would make terrific stars of a new adventure series. One can hope.
Philip J. Adler
P.J. teaches high school AP English. After dusting off the blackboard chalk, he pens essays and reviews (and works on his desk-drawer novel). An avid reader and self-proclaimed nerd, P.J. leans to sci-fi but also enjoys nonfiction—science and technology, history and current events.