A brighter, softer, funnier installation in the ‘Doc Ford’ series

Cuba Straits, by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 336 pages. Hardcover $26.95.

This book is a pleasant change of pace after “Doc Ford” series titles dominated by words like deep, dead, and dark. Yes, all those elements (with their neighbors named night, shadow, and black) are still lurking, but there is something brighter, softer, and just plain funnier about “Cuba Straits.” Perhaps this is because Doc Ford’s sometimes sidekick and constant nuisance Tomlinson, a drug-expanded loony-tunes, is in full bloom here. Naively hilarious with his karmic insights and self-aggrandizing moral gestures, Tomlinson steals long stretches of the novel.  Jacket_Cuba_Straits

Many characters introduced for the first time are at once menacing and humorous. However, Doc Ford, the ballast that keeps this production in balance and afloat, is his winsome, stoic, complicated, and courageous self.

Oh, yeah – the book is about baseball, sixty years of Cuban history, a weird cult, a Russian spy, powerful females, buried Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and hidden love letters.

The term “strait” is usually defined as a narrow passage between larger bodies of water, but I find no reference to Cuba Straits outside of the title of Mr. White’s book. It is surely meant to be a place name, but perhaps the other meaning of strait (or straits) is just as important to the novel’s focus: “a position of difficulty, distress or need.” That defines Cuba and the situation of its people pretty well.

In the spirit of baseball and comic hijinks, let’s play “who’s on first.”

Gen. Juan Simón Rivera? At a minor league baseball game in Fort Myers, Ford and Tomlinson run into Ford’s old acquaintance, the former dictator of a small Latin American country. Rivera smuggled shortstop Figueroa Casanova into the U. S., but now he’s lost him and insists on Fords’ help. What’s missing along with Figgy is an old briefcase with a horde of letters from the brothers Castro.

White / photo by Wendy Webb

White / photo by Wendy Webb

Some of these are love letters, others have the potential of shedding light on the Cuban Revolution, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and the murder of JFK.

Rivera is quite an entrepreneur, with a thriving business smuggling Cuban ballplayers as well as baseball artifacts.

Figgy is also quite a character. Though he is more or less functional, he clearly has a screw loose somewhere and had been an inmate in a mental institution for three years. He has no problem with committing murder to solve his problems. He sees the world in a way that is both frightening and wackily humorous. Figgy’s grandmother had been the secret mistress of a Castro brother and the recipient of those valuable letters. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the April 22, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the April 23 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, and the May 28 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition click here: Florida Weekly – Cuba Straits

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