When his shaky finances compel him to accept a lucrative job for a 10-day fishing tournament to Cuba, Army combat veteran-turned-charter boat captain Mac learns that one of his clients is seeking to claim millions hidden by her grandfather, who was forced to flee Castro's revolution years earlier. By the best-selling author of Plum Island.
DeMille visited Cuba in 2015. He took a binderful of notes and displays them throughout this story of a Key West charter-boat owner who accepts a dangerous but well-paying job: he's to help Cuban expatriates recover millions of dollars stashed when they fled the island as Castro was coming to power. This is powerful, mythic stuff, like Confederate gold and Nazi treasure, and readers may wish DeMille had focused on it rather than emptying that binder. Some of the peripheral stuff is fascinating, like the dead woman whose body didn't decompose, so the Cubans made a shrine of her tomb. But too much reads like a tourist guide to the best hotels and restaurants. It slows and pads the narrative. But wait. As the true nature of the charter-boat owner's job becomesclear and the betrayals begin, DeMille mounts a long, magnificent sequence with boat chases, helicopter rescues, and tracer fire. They're all described in that visceral style the author has mastered. This is the DeMille of Plum Island (1997) and Night Fall (2004) and the one we want more of. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Whether at the top of his game or off stride just a bit, as he is here, DeMille has a built-in audience of eager readers, as his long run on various best-seller lists testifies. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.
Old bones and old grudges in contemporary Havana.In this, his 20th, DeMille (Radiant Angel, 2015, etc.) deftly drops Daniel "Mac" MacCormick, captain of The Maine, a 42-foot sport fisherman out of Key West, into a storm of competing visions of Cuba's future. When a trio of Cubans and Cuban-Americans, Carlos Macia, Eduardo Valazquez, and the lovely Sara Ortega, offer him a small fortune to participate in a scheme to recover documents and cash hidden in a cave during the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Mac is tempted and succumbs to both avarice and lust for Sara. The plan is to infiltrate Mac and Sara into Cuba as part of an educational tour under the auspices of Yale University (and some fun is had at the expense of the Elis). The two will break away from the tour, recover the money and documents, meet The Maine, which will be participating in a fishing tournament down the coast, and escape. Relations with Cuba are in flux; the exile community rejects the notion of a "Cuban Thaw," and the security services in Cuba also resist the idea. But some in the U.S. promote a lessening of tensions, and some in Cuba itself understand that the nation cannot survive without a quick infusion of money and that the best hope is U.S. tourist dollars. The real poverty of Cuba is clearly described, as are the conditions of the infrastructure and the social climate. In spots the narrative seems to slog through discursive observations, but they are mostly informative and worthwhile, and then the plot picks up energy again. Though Mac and his mate Jack Colby seem to share a somewhat adolescent obsession with "getting laid," they are stout fellows in a fight, and the thriller charts a satisfying course. A good day's work from an old pro. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
The Cuban Affair
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.
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 am the owner and skipper of a 42-foot deep-sea fishing charter boat called The Maine, named for my home state—not for the American battleship that blew up in Havana Harbor, though some people think that.
I usually book my charters by phone, and most of my customers are repeats or referrals, or they checked out my website. The party just shows up fifteen minutes before sailing, and off we go for marlin, sailfish, tuna, sharks, or whatever. Or maybe the customer wants a sightseeing cruise. Now and then I get a fishing tournament or a romantic sunset cruise. Whatever the customer wants. As long as it’s legal.
But this guy, Carlos, wanted to meet first, coming all the way down from Miami, and he sounded a bit cryptic, making me think we weren’t talking about fishing.
The barmaid, Amber, inquired, “Ready for another?”
“Hold the lime.”
Amber popped another Corona and stuck a lime wedge in the neck. “Lime’s on me.”
Amber is pretty but getting a little hard behind the bar. Like nearly everyone here in what we call the Conch Republic, she’s from someplace else, and she has a story.
I, too, am from someplace else—Maine, as I said, specifically Portland, which is directly connected to Key West by U.S. Highway One, or by a cruise up the coast, but Portland is as far from here as Pluto is from the sun. FYI, I spent five years in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer and got blown up in Afghanistan. That’s the short story of how I wound up here. The long story is a long story, and no one in Key West wants to hear long stories.
It was about 5 P.M., give or take an hour. The citizens of the Conch Republic are not into clocks, which is why they’re here. We’re on sun time. Also, we have officially seceded from the United States, so we are all expats. I actually have a rainbow-hued Conch Republic passport, issued by the self-appointed Secretary General of the Republic, a guy named Larry who has a small office over on Angela Street. The passport was a gag gift from my first mate, Jack Colby, who like me is an Army vet. 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.
I wasn’t sure of the time, but I was sure of the month—October. End of hurricane season, so business was picking up.
Amber, who was wearing a tank top, was sipping a black coffee, surveying the crowd. The Green Parrot’s regular clientele are eclectic and eccentric and mostly barefoot. The owner, Pat, is a bit crazy himself, and he tells the tourists that the parachute hanging on the ceiling is weighed down with termite turds.
Amber asked, “How’s business?”
“Summer was okay. September sucked. Picking up.”
“You were going to take me for a sail in September.”
“I did a lot of maintenance on the boat.”
“I thought you were going to sail to Maine.”
“I thought so, too.”
“If you ever go, let me know.”
“You’ll need a sweater.”
A customer called for another and Amber moved off.
I’ve never actually slept with Amber, but we did go skinny-dipping once off Fort Zachary Taylor. She has a butterfly tattoo on her butt.
The place was starting to fill up and I exchanged greetings with a few people. Freaks, geeks, loveable weirdos, and a few Hemingway look-alikes. He used to live here, and you can see his house for ten bucks. You can see mine for free. Bring a six-pack. Anyway, Key West’s official motto is “One Human Family.” Well, they haven’t met my family. And they haven’t been to Afghanistan to see the rest of the human family. Or, like Jack, to Vietnam. Or if they have, they’re here, like me and Jack, to float in a sea of alcohol-induced amnesia. I’ve been here four years. Five is enough to forget why you came here. After that, you’re not going home.
But, hey, it could be worse. This is paradise. Better than two tours in Allfuckedupistan. Better than freezing my ass off in Maine. And definitely better than 23 Wall Street, where I worked for a year after graduating from Bowdoin College. If I’d stayed with Hamlin Equities I’d now be dead from boredom.
Instead, I was captain of The Maine, and a former captain of infantry with a fifty percent combat disability and a quarter-million-dollar bank loan on my boat. The fifty percent disability is for pay purposes and I have no physical limitations except for housecleaning. The bank loan is a hundred percent pain in the ass.
But when I’m out there on the sea, especially at night, I am free. I am captain of my own fate.
Which was why I agreed to meet Carlos the Cuban, who was not interested in fishing. That much I understood from our short phone conversation. And I wouldn’t be the first sea captain who got involved with these people.
Well, I’d listen and see if I could make an intelligent decision—like I did when I left Wall Street and joined the Army for adventure. How’d that work out, Mac?
Being captain of your own fate doesn’t mean you always make good decisions.