This time around it's a tropical caper for Nelson DeMille. The legendary New York Times bestselling author sets his just released suspense novel-- The Cuban Affair-- on the exotic but troubled island 90 miles from Key West's shores.
DeMille introduces readers to Daniel Graham "Mac" MacCormick, a provocative new character. At age 35, Mac seems to have a pretty good life. He is living in Key West, captain of a 42-foot deep-sea charter fishing boat, The Maine. Mac served five years in the Army as an infantry officer with two tours in Afghanistan. He returned with the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, scars that don’t tan, and a $250,000 bank loan on his boat.
One of today’s most iconic thriller writers, DeMille brings his 20th book (his first with new publisher Simon & Schuster) to the Vero Beach Book Center on Wednesday, September 27 at 7 p.m. when he takes the stage for a free live Q&A session followed by a book signing.
"Growing up I was influenced by some of the greatest British mystery writers such as Agatha Christie, Dennis Wheatley and Dorothy Sayers as well as iconic characters like Nero Wolfe and Sherlock Holmes," DeMille remembers. "Their stories were deceptively simple. I learned the structure of murder mysteries. Plus I knew everyone loves a good who-dunnit."
A native of Long Island, N. Y. DeMille met a family of Cuban refugees in the 1960s who settled into his middle-class neighborhood.
“I was 16, so I was old enough to know about the revolution in Cuban, the missile crisis, and was reading how the best and brightest were leaving the island," DeMille recalls. "They were a nice family, their son became an engineer, the daughter a pharmacist. The parents were very bitter over losing everything.
"When I switched to Simon & Schuster they didn't want another John Cory book so I needed to come up with someone fresh. This was mid-2015, when Obama was reopening relations with Cuba. I pitched this story idea to friends and family then sent a two page memo to the publisher and they loved it."
The novel opens with Mac in the Green Parrot Bar in Key West drinking bottles of Corona and contemplating his life. He's also waiting for Carlos, a slick Miami lawyer heavily involved with anti-Castro groups. Dressed in neatly pressed beige linen slacks, Gucci loafers and a lime green Polo shirt, Carlos wants to hire The Maine, Mac and his first mate Jack Colby, a 70-year old wise-cracking Viet Nam veteran, for a ten-day fishing tournament to Cuba at the standard rate.
However, Mac suspects there is a clandestine mission and turns it down. When his compensation then soars to two million dollars, he agrees to listen, and meet the lawyer's clients—a beautiful Cuban-American woman named Sara Ortega and a mysterious older Cuban exile, Eduardo Valazquez.
Cut to the chase: there is $60 million American dollars hidden in a cave by Sara’s grandfather and a former Cuban prosperous banker when he fled Castro’s revolution. With the “Cuban Thaw” underway between Havana and Washington, Carlos, Eduardo, and Sara suspect it’s only a matter of time before someone finds the stash—by accident or on purpose. Mac's pretty sure if he accepts this mission, he’ll walk away very rich, or be imprisoned and worse.
Fans of Nelson DeMille have been waiting for the author’s next novel ever since Radiant Angel came out in 2015. Six of his novels are #1 New York Times bestsellers, including Radiant Angel, Plum Island, The Charm School, The Gold Coast, and The General’s Daughter, which was made into a major motion picture.
Writing in his typical engaging style, DeMille brings the island setting to life with colorful descriptions of the physical beauty as well as the flip side-- crumbling old buildings that have suffered ravages of an almost 60-year Communist reign. Along the way DeMille goes beyond the romantic aura of pre-1959 vintage cars, cigars, and rum cocktails and delves deeper into the troubled country’s complexities.
A combat-decorated U.S. Army veteran, DeMille and his wife spent 11 days exploring Cuba in October 2015 in the waning days of Fidel Castro's regime. He provides an insider's look at the police state as well as a solid understanding of what makes the island tick. With him were his childhood friends who, through a connection to former Secretary of State John Kerry, orchestrated a meeting for all of them with Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis at the newly opened American Embassy in Havana.
"I need to be even-handed in my approach as a novelist," DeMille explains. "Not sound like a neo-con or a dove who wants peace at any price. The people in this story fall into two camps, those who are happy and hopeful about the Cuban Thaw, and those who are trying to derail it. My trip enabled me to see both sides."
DeMille describes Cuba as "hot and sunny, but with a Soviet pall with a primitive economy that neglects infrastructure. It's true communism: everybody has nothing.”
Despite the poverty and decaying buildings, DeMille was inspired by hopeful changes like the growing number of legal private restaurants, as well as the lively cultural scene, teeming with quality music, dance, and visual arts.
“The music and art scene is very much alive, same with the new private restaurants and nightclubs," DeMille says. "Havana is a different place after sundown. I have great hope for the Cuban people."
"As for Mac I can see a possible sequel," DeMille says. "I like him, he's just 35 and has been involved in all sorts of intelligence work. So that gives me plenty of options."