Nelson DeMille’s newest novel is a fast-paced, witty and thrilling read. It begins with a letter to the reader in which DeMille describes a research trip he took with several men who all have ties to people in the United States government. The group included the nephew of McGeorge Bundy, who was directly involved in U.S.–Cuba relations as a special assistant to President Kennedy. In the letter, DeMille describes a briefing he received from the ambassador of the American Embassy in Havana as “eye-opening,” and this is one way to describe DeMille’s novel; another is heart-stopping. What is made clear by this letter—which perfectly sets up what is to come in the story of DeMille’s newest character, Daniel “Mac” MacCormick—is that there is a long history of villainization between Cubans and Americans.
The Cuban Affair begins with our narrator, Mac, a military veteran working in Key West as a charter boat captain. Mac is approached by Carlos, a slick, mysterious man who wants to hire Mac and his boat for a fishing tournament taking place in Cuba. Mac knows Carlos is involved with anti-Castro forces and, at first, resists, having decided that he’s left his risk-taking days behind him in Afghanistan. But a woman, Sara Otega, changes his mind. It comes as no surprise to the reader when Mac changes his tune and decides an adventure is what he desires. All this takes place at the beginning of the Cuban thaw, when tensions between Cuba and the U.S. are still high. Mac is risking everything for the $2 million he’s promised once the mission is complete, and for a beautiful woman whose intentions cannot be trusted. Of course, the mission does not go as planned, and Mac is faced with obstacles that he must overcome or lose everything.
The novel is slow to start, but once the action begins it’s a stay-up-all-night type of read. DeMille’s language is conversational, and this pushes the narrative forward as the story builds. The interactions between the characters are humorous, filled with witty banter, particularly between Mac and his first mate, Jack Colby. Colby’s character is beautifully crafted as it plays against the chaotic, tension filled backdrop of Mac’s mission in Cuba. Mac and Sara’s romance is all surface, however, and does not pull the reader in. The real star is Mac himself; his inner dialogue is refreshing and light throughout the novel, and this makes for an entertaining read.
In a recent interview, DeMille told us he couldn’t have written the book unless he had travelled to Cuba. And, as Mac moves through Havana, DeMille paints a beautiful picture of the city, giving the reader a good sense of the lifestyle and culture of its people. DeMille’s extensive research makes the reader feel firmly rooted in the setting, which plays a large part in the novel’s success.
In addition to culture, DeMille pays close attention to the politics of the region, including Cuba’s history with the United States. Alongside the historic and cultural information are social and political commentaries that feel a bit unbalanced and out of character for Mac, who we learn at the beginning of the novel is apolitical.
Overall, DeMille’s novel is intriguing and amusing, while also possessing the qualities of a top-notch thriller. If you are looking for an action-packed novel, with impeccable storytelling, sprinklings of sarcastic, witty humor, and you don’t mind a few history lessons, then The Cuban Affair is highly recommend.
The Cuban Affair is now available at your local bookstore.