Nelson DeMille’s The Cuban Affair (Simon & Schuster, $28.99) must be the worst book that I have ever reviewed on my site. I picked it up vaguely recalling Plum Island from many years ago. That book was narrated by a NYPD homicide cop who was convalescing, after being wounded in the line of duty, on rural eastern long island. A couple were murdered, and DeMille’s hero got involved with two women to solve the mystery. Seems like it was a real page-turner.
DeMille also wrote The General’s Daughter which was made into a popular movie and The Gold Coat, a smash best seller. With this in mind I picked up The Cuban Affair with a jacket summary that made it seem quite intriguing. The grandchildren of Cuban refugees from the 1960’s return to Cuba looking for loot stolen by the Communist government.
“Mac” narrates. Similar to Plum Island he has returned from two wounds in Afghanistan as an army infantry captain. Rather than live in his hometown in Maine he has moved as far south as you can get from Maine to Key West, Florida where, like Humphrey Bogart in “To Have and Have Not,” he runs a fishing charter boat and like Bogie, he is going to fall in love with a beautiful woman. Remember Lauren Bacall’s line, “you do know how to whistle?”
The Cuban Affair by my estimate is 40% dialogue which consists of the two primary characters, Mac and Sara, the granddaughter of a Cuban banker arguing whether or not they are going to go through with the plan. One minute one wants to quit. On the next page it’s the other. Another 40% of the book is internal monologue by Mac which attempts to replicate Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in its wit and disdain for danger.
The only action in the first 75% of the book is the couple visiting the tourist sites in Cuba under the watchful eye of the Cuban secret police, who suspect Sara the minute she lands. Why they didn’t immediately send her packing is not explained. Although Sara makes it clear to Mac on the first day of their adventure that she has a boyfriend, the question of whether they sleep together is about as obvious as snow in January. The only interesting conflict in this part is the clumsy attempt by one of the Cuban spies to bed Sara when she has already slept with Mac.
It turns out Sara has lied to Mac about the treasure and how they will get it to Miami. I won’t spoil the secret in case you want to read it. And it’s a plausible surprise. But when the character regardless of the danger is still able to rattle off either internal or verbal chippy one liners, the reader beings to conclude that the narrator is not witty or brave, he’s simply stupid. When Cuban gun boats are firing heavy weapons at their pleasure craft, the jokes aren’t funny.
Several times I was ready to toss this aside as a waste of time and would have done so had I not been writing this blog. The only redeeming feature of the book is, a nice travel log on the miserable life of Cuban communism. In Cuba everything is scarce except government oppression and cynicism.
The Cuban Affair had much potential, as a different and exotic setting for romance and mystery, unfortunately that potential was not met.
Steve E Clark as seen in the New York Times is Author of Justice Is for the Lonely and Justice Is for the Deserving, Kristen Kerry Novels Of Suspense. You can purchase his books via SteveClarkAuthor.com/BuyBook or request it at your local book store. Want to know more about Steve Clark, read more reviews or speak directly with Steve? Learn more about Steve at SteveClarkAuthor.com