A Spy, Love & War Story

Robert N. Ma­comber’s new­est novel is ti­tled Honor­ing the En­emy

RSWLiving - - Department­s - BY CATHY CHEST­NUT

The launch for the 14th ti­tle in his Honor se­ries finds au­thor Robert N. Ma­comber full cir­cle at the Ox­ford Ex­change in Tampa—across the street from where his last novel ends and his lat­est one opens. His March 14 launch takes place op­po­site the Henry B. Plant Museum, for­merly the leg­endary Tampa Bay Ho­tel. That sig­nif­i­cant his­toric land­mark plays a key role as U.S. Army head­quar­ters in Honor­ing the En­emy, the sec­ond of a three-part mini-se­ries cen­tered on the Span­ishAmer­i­can War dur­ing a de­ci­sive month in 1898.


The wake from this war—fought by land and sea—“changed Amer­i­can history and world history,” Ma­comber says. It be­gan in 1895 as Cuba’s strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence. Af­ter U.S. in­volve­ment three years later fol­low­ing the sink­ing of the USS Maine, it ended Span­ish colo­nial rule in the Amer­i­cas and in the U.S. ac­qui­si­tion of Pa­cific and Latin Amer­i­can ter­ri­to­ries.

Although it un­folded 120 years ago, Ma­comber, as his read­ers and fans know, talks ex­u­ber­antly—with in­sider knowl­edge—as though the spilled blood is fresh. Thor­oughly re­searched his­tor­i­cal facts are in­ter­wo­ven with ro­mance, ac­tion and in­trigue through the fic­tional mem­oirs of the se­ries’ lead­ing pro­tag­o­nist, Cap­tain Peter Wake, serv­ing as a naval in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer. “It’s a spy story, a love story and a war story,” the writer ex­plains.

The Honor se­ries fol­lows the life of Wake, be­gin­ning with his en­list­ment into the Navy dur­ing the Civil War. Why a mini-tril­ogy fo­cused on the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War?

Ma­comber notes that this con­flict saw many “firsts.” Although forced la­bor camps had long been prac­ticed around the world, Spain im­ple­mented the first wartime con­cen­tra­tion camps to cor­ral and starve sus­pected rebels and in­no­cent civil­ians.

The en­su­ing famine and dis­ease drew the com­pas­sion of Clara Bar­ton, who was 77 years old and had founded the Amer­i­can Red Cross. She ar­rived un­in­vited to care for the de­tained, el­derly men, women and chil­dren. One U.S. Army of­fi­cer called the camps a “sub­urb of hell.”

This war also saw the first use of ma­chine guns— con­verged with barbed wire and gun tur­rets to make con­cen­tra­tion camps a re­al­ity—and modern, steel­hulled ships. Fu­ture Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt formed his fa­mous “Rough Rid­ers” for this foray, and nar­rowly missed bul­lets him­self. (Hand-picked friends and com­rades died.)

In a dra­matic sweep, Cuban forces cleared the land­ing for the Amer­i­cans to com­bat the well-armed Spaniards. “It’s go­ing to sur­prise a lot of peo­ple. The Amer­i­can Army owes the Cuban army a huge debt of grat­i­tude,” Ma­comber says. “Oth­er­wise, it would have been a blood­bath.”

Ma­comber keenly un­der­stands the cen­turies-long con­nec­tion be­tween South­west Florida and Cuba. To­day, there are fourth-gen­er­a­tion lo­cals whose an­ces­tors par­tic­i­pated in the con­flict, and re­turned to make it their home. For hun­dreds of years prior, na­tive pop­u­la­tions here, and Cuban fish­er­men, reg­u­larly tra­versed back and forth.


As a re­searcher, Ma­comber es­ti­mates he reads 60 books a month, and many “thou­sand-page books that would put most peo­ple to sleep.” With the goal of pub­lish­ing a

With the goal of pub­lish­ing a book each year, Ma­comber finds him­self work­ing on four or five at a time, each in var­i­ous stages.

book each year, Ma­comber finds him­self work­ing on four or five at a time, each in var­i­ous stages. He also im­merses him­self in the lo­cales: on African treks, Cam­bo­dian river ex­cur­sions, and hikes through the jun­gles of San­ti­ago, Cuba.

He gained en­trée into the com­mu­nist is­land na­tion a decade ago―be­fore travel re­stric­tions were lifted―through Freema­sons who in­vited him to ac­cess their Grand Lodge and ar­chives from clan­des­tine meet­ings held un­der Span­ish rule. Ma­comber ac­com­pa­nied an 82-year-old lo­cal to re­con­noi­ter jun­gle trails and bat­tle sites.

“With­out that kind of help on the ground, I never would be able to un­der­stand the things the way that I need to so I can write with such vivid de­tail,” he says. Ma­comber will take some of his read­ers to sites in San­ti­ago and Ha­vana in early March.

His sec­ond book launch party fea­tur­ing Cuban food will be at his an­nual shindig on Pine Is­land, where he lives in an Old Florida cot­tage nicknamed the “Boathouse” be­cause of his bevy of boats, now win­nowed. One pram was con­verted into a but­ter­fly gar­den. “I down­sized my pos­ses­sions and sim­pli­fied my life a few years ago,” he says.

Now 65, Ma­comber grew up sail­ing around the re­gion’s bar­rier is­lands. He came up pro­fes­sion­ally lead­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions at the Lee County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment be­fore em­bark­ing on com­mer­cial writ­ing—and knows a thing or two about real-life may­hem and courage.

Lee County “was a nice place to grow up and I am pro­foundly blessed to have grown up here,” he says. “There were far fewer peo­ple, and the gen­eral cul­ture was small-town. Pine Is­land, in my opin­ion, is the last plac e left sim­i­lar to that.”

Ma­comber keenly un­der­stands the cen­turies­long con­nec­tion be­tween South­west Florida and Cuba.

Clock­wise from top left: Au­thor Robert N. Ma­comber sound­ing a conch at the 2018 Pine Is­land Reader Ren­dezvous; a stack of his books; the cover of his lat­est novel; sign­ing one of his books at an in­de­pen­dent book­store.

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