Great Start Troubled Ending

The AsteriskThe Asterisk by Mark Desmond

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two MIT nerds, while being handled—that is coerced—by the CIA develop software that scans images of Earth, made by the Kepler Deep Space Telescope, for deposits of precious metals. They are unable to debug the software and are frustrated for a couple of years. Then Jack Drago finds a debugging algorithm that was developed at Harvard. It solves the problem and he is able to print a plot of an area in the Bolivian Alto Plano showing deposits of gold, silver, uranium, and something else. The CIA immediately pulls the plug on their operation. Jack is warned of his eminent arrest by girlfriend Hanna, who is head of campus security. Jack and his cohort, Frannie, AKA Francis, are determined to go to Bolivia to discover what this anomaly might be, and to prevent the CIA from seizing it.

That’s where this story unravels. The artifact is of extraterrestrial origin, and in fact the US military already has one that was discovered in Egypt during the First World War. They don’t know what it is or what to do with it. The reader never discovers why it’s a threat to mankind. However, the indigenous Bolivians know of it and revere it as something to be protected. The thing is just a little too bizarre and inexplicable be taken seriously. When the action starts, the story devolves into poor dialogue and improbable events by characters who aren’t very believable. I realize there is a reason we call this fiction, but one needs a shred of plausibility. It is as if this book were written by two people. The first half is concise and logical with good prose solid technology. Then something happens. This reader was severely let down by the second half of the book. And the ending? Well, I don’t know what the ending was, but it wasn’t very satisfying.

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The Cuban Affair

The Cuban AffairThe Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Afghanistan veteran and charter boat captain based in Key West is approached by a group of Cuban Americans with a proposition. The Cuban Thaw allows American tourists to visit the Communist island in groups as long as they adhere to State Department guidelines and are under the scrutiny of Cuban minders. The Cuban Americans want Mac to join a tour group from Yale and go to Cuba with a stunningly beautiful Cubana, Sara. The plan is for Mac and Sara to slip away from the group and recover sixty-three million dollars that was hidden in a cave at the time of Castro’s revolution. Entering Mac’s boat in a fishing tournament in the waters made famous by Hemingway provides the means for them to escape with the loot. If he succeeds, Mac’s share will be three million. Unfortunately just about everything they told him is a lie.

Nelson DeMille’s main characters are unfailingly witty, tough, profane, and irreverent. That’s Mac. One suspects they are an extension of DeMille. At least I hope so. This first person narrative is classic DeMille with plenty of sarcasm and biting social commentary. It is, however, a little slower than this writer’s other works. The escape scene is a real nail-biter, but in getting there, DeMille seems a little off his game. Now, I maintain that there is no such thing as bad Nelson DeMille, but I would not call this the apex his bibliography. The Cuban Affair is a good read. Parts of it are a great read.

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