Publication date: September 19th 2017
Nelson DeMille and his long-time protagonist, John Corey, have been my go-to guys for action for decades. Generally, I’m not a fan of the spy/political thriller/blow-things-up genre, but I read all of the Corey series and loved them for his smart ass attitude towards authority and rude humor. DeMille is one of those authors who does exhaustive research for his books so by the time I was finished with a novel like The Panther I had an understanding of how Yemen worked as a terrorist training country. Even if John Corey was cocky and all action, DeMille was methodical. Corey has retired and now Daniel (Mac) MacCormick, a former Army captain makes his debut in The Cuban Affair.
Mac lives in Key West and runs fishing charters with his friend Jack, a Vietnam Vet. Life is simple until three Cuban-Americans from Miami show up and want to hire him to go to Cuba. Ostensibly, it’s to participate in a Pan-American fishing tournament to continue the warming trend between Cuba and America, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is a lot more to gained. Namely, $60 million U.S. dollars taken from Cuban banks before the Communist takeover and hidden. Along with numerous land deeds and legal papers it belongs to Cubans now living in America. Mac’s cut would be $2 million and the only laws he would be breaking are Cuban, not American. He agrees and meets Sara Ortega, the woman who will accompany him with a map to the money and the plan to get it out of the country on his boat. In true action/suspense fashion nothing about this plan goes right and once they’re in Cuba Mac and Sara are under surveillance by the police and trying to find both the money and the way out.
While the plot of The Cuban Affair has plenty to keep the reader’s interest it’s the background of Cuba that provides the greatest interest to me. Facts such as: 90% of the Cuban diet is beans and rice (imported from Vietnam) and workers are paid $20 a day regardless of whether they work in the cities or farm—meaning farming has largely been abandoned due to its intense labor, because the majority of the work is still done with 19th century methods. DeMille portrays a level of systemic poverty so pervasive that spying for the police and the government is the only way to make any real money.
My only problem with the novel? There’s not enough of a difference between Corey and MacCormick, so The Cuban Affair has a recycled feeling to it. I like swagger, but the comebacks, jabs, and double entendres come one right after the other, leaving very little room for real dialogue. There’s also the fact that DeMille’s heroes, as macho as they are, are happy to fall in love and commit to marriage with alarming rapidity. Mac knows Sara for less than a week before saying “I love you” and agreeing to get married. Call me cynical, but it feels like a cheap trick. If you’ve never read any of DeMille’s novels than The Cuban Affair is as good a place to start as any because there are no comparisons to be made. DeMille is really good at what he does, but if you’ve been a long-time John Corey fan the book feels repetitive.