When someone is hesitant to get involved in something they believe could be risky, in terms of physical well-being, very often, the allure of money can be a powerful motivator. Thirty-five year old Daniel MacCormick, better known as Mac, is a decorated, U.S. Army combat veteran, who is living a relatively drama free life in Key West, Florida. Instead of facing down enemy combatants in hostile war zones, he captains ‘The Maine,’ a 42 foot charter boat that takes individuals deep sea fishing. After a day’s work, Mac can often be found at ‘The Green Parrot Bar’ escaping into drink, but, financial problems have been cutting into the serene lifestyle he has built up for himself. He’s in debt and needs a considerable amount of money to get out of the red. A possible solution to his financial troubles presents itself in the person of Carlos Macia, a powerful, lawyer, who is based out of Miami, Florida, and is involved with organizations with strong, anti-Castro leanings.
Under the guise of being hired for the ‘Pescando Por la Paz,’ a fishing tournament in Cuba, if Mac agrees to the daring mission put forth to him, and he can successfully pull it off, he will be paid the sum of two million dollars. On the mission, Mac will be joined by the attractive and intelligent, Cuban-American, Sara Ortega. Sara asserts, that she knows, and is the only one who does, thanks to a map she is in possession of, the location of where her grandfather, a former Cuban banker, stashed sixty millions dollars worth of assets and cash, before escaping from Cuba during the revolution. The reason for the urgency to return to Cuba, is that relations between the United States and Cuba have begun to strengthen, and Eduardo Valazquez, a Cuban exile, who is intricately involved in facilitating the mission, is worried that someone else might discover where the treasure is hidden. Before Mac, can set sail for the prospect of financial freedom, he must discuss things with his first mate, Jack Colby. Colby, like Mac, is a war veteran, although, his service took place during the Vietnam War, and he is three plus decades older than Mac. When Jack, despite reservations, agrees to become part of the mission, and an important one at that, things are set into motion.
Mac and Sara’s cover, is their joining of the Yale Group, an educational tour group, led by the knowledgeable, Alison and Tad. The tour group is restricted by a number of rules and regulations put forth from the Cuban government; one of which is, that in order for Americans to be able to keep being permitted to come to Cuba, in pursuit of learning, all members of the group must attend all scheduled events. At the same time Mac and Sara are supposed to be learning about Cuban culture, Jack, will captain the ‘The Maine,’ newly dubbed ‘Fishy Business’ in the tournament. The boat will be vital for getting Mac and Sara, as well as the purported buried treasure out of Cuba, if all goes according to plan. Mac and Sara have already been informed, that they will pretend, for the purposes of the mission, to become romantically involved while on the tour. This will be done, in order to throw off suspicion, if and when, they go off to take care of things of importance for the mission, as well as their eventual disappearance, in order to buy themselves as much time as possible, if the mission can be carried out to fruition.
Throughout the novel, DeMille, who visited Cuba before he began writing the “The Cuban Affair,“ gives the reader wonderful insight into a world many Americans haven’t seen in decades, or have never been privy to. For example, he paints a picture, in the mind of the reader, by the way in which he describes the nightlife, as well as the old-world, charm of the hotels and restaurants. DeMille, doesn’t romanticize, however, the entire Cuban experience. He incorporates into his work, the palpable tension that the average Cuban citizen lives under, in a, for all intents and purposes, military state, run by a dictator. Life is hard for the average Cuban citizen, worried, that if it appears they have a bit extra, that their neighbor, will inform the police, who will soon be knocking on their door to inquire, why and how they have more than their monthly, government stipend. Additionally, he informs the reader, that negative talk about Fidel Castro, is something that is not tolerated under any circumstances, and is an offense for which a person can be arrested. For that matter, Mac and Sara, are under surveillance from the moment they arrive in Cuba, making their mission even more perilous. The two of them, in particular, have attracted the attention of Antonio, their ‘on-the-take’, Cuban tour guide, who is willing to ignore his communist ideals, whenever the situation will benefit him.
Will Mac and Sara make it out of Cuba, with the money, their lives, or both? Is Jack able to successfully keep up the ruse of being a competitor in the ‘Pescando Por la Paz,’ tournament? Does a mysterious stowaway aboard the ship, whose presence is only discovered after the boat has reached Cuban waters, put everyone’s safety in jeopardy? Is the mission completely about the sixty million dollars in assets, or is there an ulterior motive at work, for those who planned it? All of those questions and more will be answered by the novel’s end.
In closing, I felt “The Cuban Affair” to be engaging, suspenseful, well-written, and for me at least, a real page turner. The novel kept me awake at night, wanting to find out what would happen next, even as the clock on my iPhone, kept letting me know, that the next work day was rapidly approaching. I, not only, enjoyed the clever twists and turns that DeMille weaved into the story, but I also appreciated the authenticity that DeMille injected into the book, as well as his wit and humor, which on occasion broke up the pulse-pounding pace of what was transpiring.