A Spy, Love & War Story
Robert N. Macomber’s newest novel is titled Honoring the Enemy
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.
THE PREP WORK
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.