Sunday, 12 November 2017 04:14

Living in South Florida, I am well aware of what goes on in Cuba and its impact on the US, especially in the area in which I live.

So Nelson DeMille’s latest novel, The Cuban Affair (Simon & Schuster), held special interest for me, aside from the gripping plot. The look at Cuba, and also the Keys, was what I was after.

Of course, the extra bonus is that The Cuban Affair is a darn good mystery. As I wrote in my Sun Sentinel review, The Cuban Affair is “a heady mix of politics—both US and Cuban—culture, nonstop action, and believable characters.”

DeMille launches a new series with his 20th novel, The Cuban Affair, and his new hero—Daniel “Mac” MacCormick—proves more than capable of leading his own series.

A 35-year-old army veteran wounded in Afghanistan and now living in Key West, Florida, as a charter boat captain, Mac is coaxed into a covert trip to Cuba that offers him a huge paycheck.

A group of anti-Castro Cuban-Americans hire Mac to bring back millions of dollars and some documents hidden in a Cuban cave.

“To say the job is risky is an understatement and it involves a convoluted network of plans, any of which could go wrong,” I wrote in my review.

The Cuban Affair is set in 2015, and US relations with Cuba were very different then, especially in light of recent developments in Washington. DeMille deftly makes “The Cuban Thaw,” as more than one character describes it, an integral part of the plot, which shows suspicions on both sides.

Mac sees Cuba as “an alternative universe where the past and the present fought to become the future.”

The Cuban Affair works as a travel guide, showing the country, the cities, and the people with clarity.

DeMille’s precise research stems from a trip he took with the Yale Educational Travel group in 2015. On that trip was a childhood friend who had been a roommate of former Secretary of State John Kerry.

They had a meeting with the newly opened American embassy in Havana, and a briefing there provided a lot of “grist” for his research, as he writes in a note to his readers. (That embassy has been in the news a lot lately.) While in Havana, DeMille’s group also visited many sites.

This research is deftly woven into the brisk, action-packed plot of The Cuban Affair.

But in addition to Cuban politics, DeMille also delves into the emotional landscape of those who have strong roots in the country. One character sees her grandparents’ former house, the bank her grandfather managed, and the streets her parents once walked. I know many Cuban-Americans who have had similar experiences.

It’s not giving anything away to say that The Cuban Affair begins and ends at The Green Parrot bar in Key West.

The Keys were devastated by Hurricane Irma, but Key West is open again for business, as is The Green Parrot, a landmark bar.

Nelson DeMille photo by John Ellis Kordes Photography.

Nelson DeMille and Cuba
Oline Cogdill
Friday, 01 September 2017 01:10

, which is sponsored by the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America, has earned its reputation as being one of the best conferences for writers. Panels about the craft of writing and publishing give a boost to would-be writers. Plus, writers have the chance to talk with agents and editors.

The 24th Sleuthfest will be held March 1-4, 2018, at Embassy Suites, 661 NW 53rd St., Boca Raton.

And now is the time to polish those words of wisdom and enter the 2017 Freddie Award for Writing Excellence.

The Freddie Award is accepting submissions now through October 15 in two categories, mystery and thriller. This contest is a rare opportunity for unpublished writers. All entrants will receive feedback on their unpublished mystery or thriller manuscript: the judges' score sheet critiques of their writing.

A free three-day registration for the 2019 Sleuthfest is one of the prizes that come with the award.

The top five entrants in the Freddie Award Mystery and Thriller categories will be read by an acquiring agent or editor. All 10 finalists will be introduced to the editors during a special ceremony at SleuthFest 2018 and the winners will be announced at the same ceremony.

In addition to the three-day early registration, the top mystery and thriller winners will also receive a crystal plaque.

The contest fee is $25 for MWA members, $30 for nonmembers. You do NOT need to be an MWA member to enter.

For details go to and click on Contest for rules, entry forms, and more.

The Sleuthfest keynote speaker will be Andrew Gross and the Forensic Guest of Honor is Katherine Ramsland.

Guest Authors who will teach workshops will include Hallie Ephron, Kristy Montee (PJ Parrish), Hank Phillippi Ryan, and James R. Benn. Neil Nyren of G.P. Putnam's Sons returns as the Editor in Chief.

Yes, it’s not even Halloween yet, so why should we worry about March?

Because this is the time to save on registration.

An early bird rate of $360 for the Friday through Sunday conference and an $85 for the 3rd Degree Thursday on March 1 will be honored through September 30. To register, visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Freddie Is for Writers
Oline H. Cogdill
Monday, 28 August 2017 23:17

The heartbreaking news and photographs show the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Houston and the surrounding areas.

But the news and photos also show us the spirit of people, of complete strangers coming to the aid of another. A truck driver rescued. People carrying what means the most to them—their children and pets. Volunteers from across the country who want to help.

So most people might think that reading a book is the last thing on anyone’s mind. A novel pales next to having your home and most precious possessions underwater.

But Houston bookstores also are proving that they are more than a place to buy a book, but are vital parts of their community.

Many of Houston’s bookstores seemed to have had little damage during Harvey, but, of course, are closed and have canceled events.

But these stores want to reach out to offer a bit of refuge.

That’s because brick and mortar stores do what online shopping cannot—care about the community and the residents. People aren’t just faceless customers but friends and neighbors.

McKenna Jordan, owner of Murder by the Book in Houston, reported on the store’s Facebook page that it “has a few damp places where water came in, but it is minimal compared to what we expected.”

On Monday the store opened, not to sell books but to offer a bit of comfort.

Murder by the Book, at top, offered free coffee, cookies, charging stations, Wi-Fi, and restrooms to anyone who came by. Free books also were available.

“No need to buy anything. Come visit, let us know you're OK, and take shelter from the storm. We'll be doing the same thing all week for those who can't make it,” Jordan wrote on Facebook. “Please pass this along for those who have lost electricity, or who just need a break from sitting home in the rain.”

The homes of all Murder by the Book staff are dry and have power, Jordan reported. “We're, of course, all still watching the weather, and have a few rough days ahead, but so far we feel very fortunate. Stay safe, be kind, and we hope to see you tomorrow." Of course, Jordan stressed that no one should venture out unless it is safe.

Jack Reacher also will be on hand to greet people at Murder by the Book. No, not the character in the novels, but Jordan’s dog, who was named after Lee Child’s character.

“Those who came in were SO appreciative of the coffee and being able to get out of their houses. We've all been feeling a lot of cabin fever. I expect for us to have many more in [rest of the week]. So many people are still unable to leave their immediate area,” Jordan wrote in an email to Mystery Scene.

Murder by the Book still has on its calendar appearances by Louise Penny, Tess Gerritsen, and Craig Johnson.

Book industry newsletter Shelf Awareness reported that Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston canceled its “signature poetry event of the year.” But the store’s Facebook page said, “We stopped by the shop, and all is well. We are very lucky. We continue to keep our bookselling friends and community in our thoughts and hearts.”

Before Harvey, the Galveston Bookshop in Galveston cleared its lower shelves of books and canceled upcoming events. According to Shelf Awareness, the store was “dry, undamaged as of Saturday afternoon.”

Brazos Bookstore in Houston also canceled its events, including Customer Appreciation Day. The store stated on Facebook that it “might have to retitle [the event] Hurricane Appreciation Day.” September author events remain on Brazos’ schedule, including Attica Locke’s signing for Bluebird, Bluebird, scheduled for September 13.

Katy Budget Books in Houston reported on Facebook that the store will make its decision day by day whether to remain closed.

Richard Deupree, manager of Katy Budget Books, told Shelf Awareness in an interview that “A crisis like this brings out the best in people. Utility linemen working to restore power in blistering winds and driving rain, risking their lives so others will be more comfortable. People from Louisiana (they call themselves the Cajun Navy) working their way to Houston as we speak, with small boats in tow to help with search and rescue. Neighbors helping neighbors...

“Ironic is it not: out of catastrophe comes unity."

Photo: Murder by the Book montage courtesy McKenna Jordan.

Houston Bookstores vs. Harvey
Oline H. Cogdill