The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

Nelson DeMille is a veteran of the Vietnam War, having served as an Army infantry platoon leader with 1st Cavalry Division. He also is the author of twenty novels, most of which are action thrillers, and most of which have been big bestsellers.  He was named 2015 ThrillerMaster of the Year by the International Thriller Writers organization.

DeMille’s latest, The Cuban Affair (Simon & Schuster, 464 pp., $28.99, hardcover; $14.99, Kindle), more than lives up to those that preceded it. DeMille’s new hero is Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, a U. S. Army veteran who is using his hard-won military skills to run a fishing boat out of Key West. Mac spent five years as an Army infantry officer. He fought in Afghanistan, and was awarded a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. That service also came with a variety of eye-catching scars, and it left him with a weakness for adventure.

A beautiful young Cuban-American woman offers Mac a deal in which he can help her retrieve $60 million in cash and gold left behind in Castro’s Cuba for a small cut. This isn’t the first novel of this sort I’ve read, so I suspected that things might go wrong. How could it not when the co-conspirators have a map showing where the gold is hidden?

Spoiler alert: Things do go a bit wrong. And even though a jaundiced Vietnam War veteran is part of Mac’s team, some unanticipated bad things happen. John Wayne gets a mention—not in a good way—and well-worn expressions from the Vietnam War such as “Di Di Mau” pop up.

Nelson DeMille

The murder of seventeen American Vietnam War POWs who had been held captive in the Hanoi Hilton also figures in the plot. They ended up in Cuba only to be tortured and shot by the Castro regime in those bad old days. Their skulls were kept in a trunk, which Mac is responsible for returning to America.

I recommend this novel to all those who have been fans of DeMille’s thrillers for as many years as I have. Also to those who have somehow not intersected with this master thriller writer.

You have hours of purely pleasurable reading ahead of you.

—David Willson

 

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Abandoned: MIA in Vietnam by Bill Yancey

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Bill Yancey’s Abandoned: MIA in Vietnam (CreateSpace, 294 pp., $12.95, paper; $2.99, Kindle) is a thriller and a medical mystery. Yancey served in the U.S. Navy, including a 1967-69 tour of duty in the Vietnam War, and has an M.D. degree from the Medical College of Virginia.

This is the first Vietnam War book I’ve read that name checks Donald Trump. It includes an autographed picture of Trump posed in front of a yellow Mustang wearing asymmetrical wide black racing stripes. We are told that Trump bought this Shelby for his daughter.

I found the book extremely complex and hard to follow at first, but once I got involved in the story, I did a lot better. The main character, Dr. Addison Wolfe, comes across the name of an old Navy buddy named Byrnes in a newspaper and is “flabbergasted to read an attempted murder occurred in his name.”

Byrnes may have committed suicide; he may have been a victim of foul play. Or he may be a serial killer. Wolfe manages to shake loose from his chronic depression and begins to investigate what happened. In the less than 300 pages, as Dr. Wolfe gets to the bottom of the mystery, I was never tempted to give up on the book. It held my attention, and the ending was satisfactory to me.

I learned a lot about service on Vietnam War-era aircraft carriers. What’s more Yancey provides a huge amount of information without it ever becoming boring or irritating. That is a gift.

Bill Yancey has a point of view about the war–in a nutshell: “The North Vietnamese won.” He also believes the war was not necessary. Neither of those opinions caused any problems with the novel’s story or plot.

At the end of the book Yancey writes that he hopes that present-day politicians and diplomats are not setting up the world “for more unnecessary wars in the future.” I hope he didn’t hear the latest news about President Trump and North Korea, Syria, and China.

—David Willson

Hyperventilated Underwater Blues by Bob Calverley

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Bob Calverley was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1967 and served a 1968-69 tour of duty in Vietnam with the 187th Assault Helicopter Company in Tay Ninh. His first novel, Purple Sunshine, which we reviewed on these pages, is set in Vietnam and back home. His unusual second novel, Hyperventilated Underwater Blues (Amazon Digital, 338 pp., $4.99, Kindle), is a murder mystery set entirely in the U.S.A. with a few mentions of the military and the Vietnam War.

The book’s hero is a guy named Rick Short. Rick happens to be short, but he is also a swimmer, which makes his height unimportant. The book is a mixture of fantasy and reality and it is difficult to figure where one stops and the other picks up.

This the first book in which I read that a tour in Vietnam could bring back childhood stuttering. At least, I think that was the claim.

“I stuttered when I was a kid, but I mostly got over it until I almost got killed by a rocket in ‘Nam,” a character says. “Killed a guy who was talking to me. Got hit in the head by a big piece of shrapnel when he was right in the middle of a sentence. All I got was a few pieces in my arm. Minor shit, but my stuttering came back. Worse than when I was a kid.”

A teen-aged girl swimmer is murdered, drowned on her 18th birthday. That’s what this book is about. If you are a fan of university swimming, the book will hold more interest for you. Much of the book takes place in or near an aquatic center, and that’s fine with me.

This isn’t the usual Vietnam War-influenced book populated by mosquitoes and leeches. In fact, the book gets nowhere near Vietnam. It’s a nice change of pace. Thanks go to Bob Calverley for that.

The author took up masters swimming when his knees gave out from running cross country, so he appreciates a change of pace. Most of us do.

As someone said, variety is the spice of life.  This book provides that needed variety.

The author’s website is bobcalverley.com

—David Willson

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

111111111111111111111111111“The detective Harry Bosch helps a small police department track a serial rapist, while as a P.I. he aids a billionaire in search of a possible heir.”

That’s how The New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list describes the book that sits at number nine this week: Michael Connelly’s The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Little, Brown, 394 pp., $29). That high-concept sentence is accurate, but doesn’t even begin to approach the detective-genre artistry Connelly once again exhibits in his nineteenth Harry Bosch cop procedural featuring the eponymous, not-quite-retired LAPD detective who served as a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War.

As he has in all the Bosch books-–beginning with The Black Echo in 1992—Connelly spins out a page-turner with vivid characters, a twisting plot, and evocative depictions of Harry’s home turf: the greater Los Angeles area. This book also has a significant Vietnam War theme in that the search for the billionaire’s “possible heir” leads Harry to a young Navy corpsman who died in a helicopter crash in 1970 in Vietnam. Harry’s service in the war comes up in the course of his investigation and he has a flashback or two to his two memorable tours of duty.

The book, in fact, opens with a flashback of sorts, to a very convincing evocation of an extraction of a group of Marines from a hot LZ. It doesn’t end well. Connelly then moves right into his two-pronged story in which Harry, who is working a volunteer investigator job for the little City of San Fernando, also takes on a free-lance assignment directly from an ailing, aging billionaire.

Both stories take unexpected twists. Harry runs into situations and roadblocks that he seems to face in every book. He has to deal with a cranky police supervisor who is out to get him. He tends to bend the rules to get what he needs to bring a bad person to justice. He uses his brain power and decades of experience to figure out the identity of an arch-evil bad guy (the serial rapist). He displays physical courage. He suffers emotionally when good cops (and civilians) are harmed. And he won’t rest until he brings the culprits to justice.

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Michael Connelly

It all adds up to a greatly entertaining read that stands with the best of the Bosch’s—and the best Bosch’s are terrific books.

There are two minor missteps relating to the Vietnam War that I will mention only because they will not ring true to Marines or to any Vietnam War veteran who took an R&R. Connelly more than once refers to Marines as “soldiers,” and calls R&R “leave.”

Here’s hoping the publisher fixes those little errors for future printings. If that happens, this will be a perfect Harry Bosch.

—Marc Leepson

Radiant Angel by Nelson DeMille

Nelson DeMille is one great storyteller. And he has been for three decades. The former Vietnam War 1st Cavalry Division lieutenant has been producing compelling, page-turning, plot-twisting mystery/thrillers with regularity since the Vietnam-War-themed Word of Honor came out in 1985. DeMille’s first-class story-telling ability has reaped dividends: His books always hit the best-seller lists.

So it’s no surprise that DeMille’s seventh John Corey thriller, Radiant Angel (Grand Central, 320 pp, $28), scored big with reviewers and the public when it came out last week. In it, wise-ass former FBI agent and former NYPD homicide detective Corey (now on the federal payroll in New York keeping an eye on foreign spies) gets enmeshed in a dastardly Russian scheme involving a Saudi prince, his yacht, and a small but potentially world-shattering nuclear device.

Much of the action takes place on Long Island—where DeMille grew up and still lives, and a place he often uses in his books. As usual, Nelson DeMille has the endearing but rule-breaking Corey stir up trouble involving his complicated personal life, his bosses, and some very bad guys. There’s also a big helping of the old ultra violence—just what you expect from a top-notch thriller that you’ll sure to see under many a beach umbrella this summer.

—Marc Leepson

Titanic’s Resurrected Secret–HEW by J. Robert DiFulgo

J. Robert Di Fulgo served in the United States Navy for three years during the Vietnam War. A retired teacher, he’s the author of The Invisible Moon, a Vietnam War novel. Titanic’s Resurrected Secret—HEW (iUniverse, 184 pp., $13.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle) is what DiFulgo calls a “Post-Titanic mystery novel.”

The hero is Alexander J. Dante, a historical and mystery novelist. Now retired, he decides to devote his time and energy to a solving a Titanic puzzle. The sinking of the Titanic left behind many puzzles, but the one that captures Dante (and takes him around the world) is the mystery of the identify of the crew member who is buried in grave number 223 at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The story is told that this dead crew member stole a priceless object and got caught with it. So he forfeited his identity, and presumably his life. I recommend this book to those readers hungry for more literature dealing with the Titanic.

Some of the book, though, was hard going for me. When “lips curled enigmatically,” I found myself bogged down, wondering what enigmatically curled lips would look like. I failed to imagine them.

Those readers who enjoy a blending of history and fiction, and who respect meticulous research combined with literary license, should try this book.

The author’s website is http://jrobertdifulgo.com

—David Willson

Second Watch by J. A. Jance

Second Watch (William Morrow, 368 pp., $26.99,) is the twenty-first mystery in the best-selling J. P. Beaumont series written by Jance, a woman who lives in Seattle and Tucson and who grew up in Bisbee, Arizona.  All of these geographical connections figure significantly in this novel.

Jance is a member of the Vietnam Generation, but did not serve in the military. A seventeen-page section in the back of this novel details her connections to the Vietnam War. She graduated from Bisbee High School and notes that seven alums died in Vietnam, including one of the people she chose to appropriate for a character in this mystery novel. The afterword is as moving and involving as anything in this fine book.

Second Watch places J. P. Beaumont in a Seattle hospital getting and then recovering from double knee replacement surgery. The powerful pain drugs in Beaumont’s system awaken ghosts from the past, and the novel becomes almost Strindbergian with a dreamscape populated by figures that come to life in his guilt-ridden unconscious. This fits with Beaumont’s rearing in Ballard, the main bastion of Scandinavian culture in Seattle.  Two dead people from his past represent unfinished business that troubles and torments Beaumont.

J.A. Jance

LT Lenny D., his platoon leader in Vietnam, saved Beaumont’s life in a firefight. The Girl in the Barrel is a dead teenager, one of Beaumont’s early cases. Beaumont had promised her mother he would catch her killer, but he never had. The novel is structured around, and propelled by, this unfinished business and by Beaumont’s attempts to deal with it, even though he is laid up in the hospital and unable to walk.

This mystery novel has plenty of graft, corruption, and violence, and offers both a believable look at the Seattle Police Department and an engrossing and well-plotted mystery from a writer from whom we always expect solid excitement.

This is the best of the 21 Beaumonts I’ve read. The only weak part is that there is some muddle about Beaumont’s time and exploits in Vietnam.  I won’t go into the minutia of that, but if Jance wants a detailed list of Vietnam War mistakes in this book, I respectfully offer to meet with her as she lives not so far from me.

I am eager to read the next novel in this series and highly recommend this one to fans of Jance’s excellent work.

—David Willson