Tag Archives: Cuba

The moral element shines brightly in this heart-pounding tale of historical nautical adventure

Jacket blurb by Phil Jason blurbing as U.S. Naval Academy Professor Emeritus Philip K. Jason: “Macomber is today’s foremost practitioner of a fascinating subgenre: historical fiction of the nautical variety. Building his series on the imagined autobiography of Peter Wake, he’s given readers a vivid, multi-dimensional hero. Macomber makes the remarkable times he portrays glow. This latest title is no exception. History comes alive.”

Honoring the Enemy, by Robert N. Macomber. Naval Institute Press. 368 pages. Hardcover $29.95.

This is the 14th installment of Mr. Macomber’s classic “Captain Peter Wake Novel” series. It is the first with his new publisher, and what a wonderful pairing it is to have such a fascinating series under the imprint of the Naval Institute Press. The series is also known as the “Honor” series, as that word appears in each of the titles. Old and new Macomber readers will appreciate the useful “Timeline of Peter Wake’s Life” that sets the protagonist in his historical context and in the parameters of his unique values, skills, and personality.

The author blends international politics, seamanship, strategic planning, and technology into a succulent stew. However, little else is succulent in this wartime drama notable for undependable supply lines and a scarcity of nourishment.

What we’ve got here, folks, is the Spanish-American War as adversaries battle for dominance in Cuba during June and July of 1898.

Wake is a proud patriot, always motivated to serve his country, but these days he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. After long years working up the responsibility ladder, he thought he had proven himself worthy of being given command of his own ship. But that didn’t happen. He had made too many enemies and – as a man who doesn’t mince words – there was little support for this former espionage specialist. No politician, he just didn’t have the right connections. After all, he was one of the few Navy officers who had not graduated from the Naval Academy.

Rather than driving a ship, he heads a small Navy team that is a liaison to the U. S. Army’s effort to free Cuba from Spanish rule. He reports to generals who are orchestrating a joint U. S. and Cuban liberation force. In this effort, he is finding the Spanish forces estimable and discovering that the U. S. effort mixes clever initiatives with large measures of incompetence.

The story Wake tells us involves not only his perspectives and actions, but his remembrance of how effectively his old friend Theodore Roosevelt comported himself during this campaign. Indeed, Mr. Macomber’s portrait of the president-to-be, filtered through Wake’s observations and judgments, is among the book’s many engaging threads, with unexpected comic elements to leaven the blood-soaked, storm-tossed, death-inviting narrative. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in the August 8, 2019 issue of the Naples, Palm Beach, and Venice editions of  Florida Weekly, as well as the August 14 Fort Myers  and August 15 Charlotte County editions, click here:  Honoring the Enemy

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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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A history-mystery novel wrapped in romance and love of place

The Popping Cork Murder, by Mitch Grant. Create Space. 430 pages. Trade paperback $16.00.

Last fall, Mitch Grant came out with his first “St. James City, Florida Mystery.” Though the book is billed as a novel, and there is no better label for it, it really combines several categories of writing into something at once unique and a bit unsettling.

The most successful element is Mr. Grant’s homage to the area’s natural beauty. He also, through his surrogate narrator Jim Story, enjoys the independent spirit of the community, its relative isolation, and the friendly atmosphere of St. James City and by extension all of Pine Island, one of several intriguing barrier islands off Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast. PoppingCork_front

In elaborating on these attractions, the author goes far beyond the needs of his story line into chamber of commerce enthusiasm. Still, it is fun to follow Jim and his wife Jill, victims of topophilia, into the handful of eateries and bars that dot the tiny town (actual places). We eavesdrop on the good-natured chatting that accompanies the drinking and eating. Getting to know the routes from here to there, the dangers of boating in shallow water, the technique of popping cork fishing, and the colorful history of these islands is certainly pleasurable.

And that history is intimately connected to the murder plot, so let’s get to it. Before Jim and Jill moved to St. James City, Jim’s work friend Javiar showed an interest in the place and planned to be an early visitor. Once he arrives, he stays a week with his friends and then rents nearby for another week. Javiar is filled with questions about anything and everything, and he asks them at a frantic pace. Though he pretends to be interested in the fishing, his real interest seems to lie elsewhere.

GrantAuthorPhoto

He learns his way around the islands, rents a boat, carouses with the locals until all hours of the night, and is seen less and less by Jim. One night, a local fishing guide visits the Story home with the bad news that he found Javiar murdered on Punta Blanca.

The mystery of who killed Javiar and why has to do with Javiar’s Spanish background and especially his particular lineage; the rumors of gold buried on coastal islands and ships at the bottom of the sea with gold treasure; pirates and politicians; and the tangled relationships among Spain, the United States, and Cuba back at the turn of the twentieth century. The lineages of several important families long established in this corner of the Florida peninsula also receive detailed attention. Indeed, even the Collier family is described, and – as the author puts it – “used fictionally.”

Jim and Jill develop a strained and limited partnership with Lieutenant Mike Collins of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, the man in charge of the investigation. They sometimes work together, sometimes independently, in tracking down possible suspects and motives. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 22, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the May 28 Fort Myers edition, and the May 29 Bonita Springs edition, click here Florida Weekly – Mitch Grant 1 and here Florida Weekly – Mitch Grant 2.

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