Monday, April 17, 2023

Book Review: The Cuban Heiress

By Jami Denison

Reading the title of Chanel Cleeton’s latest novel, The Cuban Heiress, one might expect the book to take place during Cuba’s 1950s-era revolution, like many of her other books. But the title is a feint—which is fitting, because several of the novel’s characters aren’t who they pretend to be, either. The book takes place in 1934, and the historical event that occurs in the climax of the book has nothing to do with Cuba or the revolution. 

An early reference to Nick and Nora Charles gives readers a clue about plot and tone. (For younger readers, Nick and Nora were a married detective team featured in The Thin Man and several sequels; the plots featured murder, the dialogue was witty and the alcohol flowing.)  New York heiress Catherine Dohan is taking a cruise to Havana with her fiancé Raymond and his young daughter Ava. But when she catches the eye of jewel thief Harry, the charming ladies man quickly realizes Catherine isn’t who she pretends to be. Will he tell Raymond that his fiancée is a con woman? Or will he fall in love with her himself?

Meanwhile, hiding out in an empty tourist cabin is Elena Palacio. Legally, Elena is dead --  and the person who tried to kill her is on the ship. Will Elena get her revenge? Or will she get caught?

Most of the book is as quick and nimble as Nick and Nora. Catherine is tough and glamorous, and the chemistry between her and Harry is a lot of fun. Elena is mysterious, brave, and determined. There’s a surprising connection between the two women that the author reveals in the last third of the book as an unexpected twist. The narrative voice is smooth and sharp; the pacing is lively. Unfortunately, the ending didn’t work for me. I found it to be a deux en machina – unearned, lacking any setup, and unbelievable. 

Ironically, after I finished the book, I learned that the ending was based on a real event! I’d never heard of the Morro Castle, and for readers who haven’t heard of this ship, I won’t spoil the ending. Truth really is stranger than fiction!

Wait until you’ve finished The Cuban Heiress before you read about what happened. But make sure you read about it. Elena, Catherine, and Harry are fictional, but the stories of the real people on the Morro Castle deserve to be heard, too. 

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Chanel Cleeton:

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cannot find in this book where Elena and Catherine meet.