My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In all of my years as a reader of fictional novels, I’ve come to know and love an ample number of fictional characters who, even after a generous passing of time, sustained themselves in my fondest memories, and became legends in my most treasured literary directories. These are the same about whom I still speak and make references now and again, whether in conversations with publishers and authors, or to certain individuals in the general public, specifically those who have their lot in the literary community.
Such characters of fiction are so impressively individualized that they take on an almost real life exterior, making a reader feel as though they have a close bond of acquaintanceship with the created personality, and can just pick up a phone and call him or her for the occasion of a late-night tête-à-tête. In other words, these types of dramatis personae enable their readers to embrace them more so in terms of relatability.
Regrettably, the same cannot be said about the awful, talentless, boring, uninteresting, and unmemorable cast of Jerold Last’s Rum, Cigars, and Corpses. Last intended well in the structuring of his literary script, which by the way, does have its fleeting moments of intrigue (for me, it had been the author’s jaw-dropping knowledge of South America and its native tongues, peoples, and art culture), but the writer simply didn’t do his “novelplay” justice during the casting process. In my sincerest estimation, this ill-fitting ensemble dilapidated what could have otherwise been a reasonably (I said reasonably) acceptable storyline. Try as they might, this troupe just could not keep my interest enticed, even though they were given 175 pages to do so.
After the initial introductions to the lead, supporting lead, and bit players, including Roger Bowman, our leading man, L.A. based attorney, and private detective; his wife Suzanne, a Professor of Biochemistry at UCLA; Christine Suzuki, an international tour director who hires Roger Bowman to investigate what she suspects was murder in Havana; Captain Martin Gonzalez, stationed with the Montevideo, Uruguay police force in Havana and a close friend of Roger’s; Vincent Romero, former CIA agent and Roger’s partner in the field of private investigation; Eduardo Gomez, Roger’s good friend and go-between in Cuba; Marco Quarles, interim Ambassador to Cuba; Frank Lomax, assistant to Quarles and commercial attaché in diplomatic service in charge of imports and exports between Cuba and the U.S.; Rosa, Marco Quarles’ art passionate of a secretary and Frank Lomax’s growing love interest; Connie Sherman; stunning widow of Dr. Delbert Sherman; and Jaime Rodriguez, Chief Technical Officer of Productos Farmacéuticos Santiago, the ball begins to roll . . . at an extremely slow and monotonous pace.
Dr. Delbert Sherman, a former oncologist and faculty member of the Medical School at UC Irvine and researcher of possible cures for cancers of the liver and pancreas, has been killed in an alleged hit and run accident while touring with his wife in Cuba. Foul play has been ruled out by the Cuban government, as it has determined that the tragic death of the American doctor was nothing more than an accident. But there is one who is not so sure that the vehicular mowing down of Dr. Delbert Sherman was only a in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time accident. In fact, she suspects that his untimely death was that of something more sinister. And for this reason, Christine Suzuki is come to the greater Los Angeles area seeking to acquire the investigative services of the famed Roger Bowman.
Blaming her for the “senseless” death of the tourister who had been Dr. Delbert Sherman, the mysterious Christine Suzuki’s employer has fired her from her adored position as an international tour director in Cuba. And in a desperate venture to reclaim her job position—by proving that Dr. Sherman was, in fact, intentionally murdered and not accidentally killed as the result of her negligence—Suzuki hires Bowman, who must travel to Cuba to embark on an exploration. But due to travel sanctions imposed on American visitors by Cuba’s dictatorial governing bodies, Roger Bowman requires the backing of his loving wife, Suzanne (who will obviously join him on his scrutinizing mission) to secure the apposite visas. And because Suzanne is a greatly respected academic, she proves to be a vital asset in obtaining said endorsements from the U.S. government to journey to Cuba—under the perception, of course, that she has been invited by fellow academics stationed in the Castro-ruled nation to speak at a conference. A few e-mail deliveries later and presto! It’s just that easy for Roger and Suzanne Bowman to secure their authorized permissions.
. . .Sadly, though, affixing to the leading man and his leading lady was not so easy, as the plot soon floated adrift.
At the outset, Rum, Cigars, and Corpses attempted to make sense, but confusion warred against it and prevailed. Despite the tale’s determination to lay a solid foundation upon which an interesting work could be enjoyed, the plot became addled about its own identity and proceeded to venture off course. Way too preoccupied with educational details regarding a particular nation, coupled with dragged out, ho-hum biographies about each one of its character’s lives, the storyline—while inching along at a snail’s pace—detatched from its roots and lost its way, forgetting the most important issue that brought it about in the first place.
Aside from the two so-called adventurous main characters in Roger and Suzanne Bowman (who barely registered themselves), not one supporting cast member was memorable here. Each one demanded attention while performing his and her respective scenes, sure, but were quickly forgotten at the beginning of each new chapter. Ardently, I willed the stars of Rum, Cigars, and Corpses to amp up their shallow, unaccented performances, even with everything that I have. But they failed miserably. Reading along, I consistently forced myself to give the stars of this treatment the benefit of the doubt, hoping beyond hope that they would eventually sync together and turn themselves around in a more suitable rhythm. But they never did. Instead, this inaptitude cast continued to waltz offbeat, shamefully misrepresenting the spy thriller subgenre, trifling, negligently, with its distinctive DNA of mystery and espionage.
If truth be told, following the two left feet of this ensemble’s lead, even over a span of 175 pages, had been one of the most confusing, frustrating, and irritating reading experiences that I have ever had to undergo.
In order to produce a meritable work of creative art—specifically in music, motion pictures, and novels of fiction—one must first devise a high caliber blueprint of the written word, be it in the form of song lyrics (set to music), screenplays, or literary constitutions. Next, the same must provide for the written work with only the finest of performer, be he, she, or they a vocalist/vocalists, an actor, an actress, or a make believe ensemble. Recruiting only the most proficient of talent provides assurance that the written work will be brought to life on a superlative level of pristine exceptionality. It is of the utmost importance for such top-end mergers to properly coincide, lest an inferior performer ruin a better than average framework.
Jerold Last—author of Rum, Cigars, and Corpses—was indeed creating his own blueprint while in the process of composing this singular work of fiction, but he obviously became disoriented in his representation, as his configuration is laden with confusion and indolence. Although smart as a whip and well traveled (I will forever respect and admire his comprehension of art and world affairs), Last lost sight of his vision here. His script was all over the place, constantly trying to explain itself, taking too long to reach its point. And that tediousness invoked within me a tremendous degree of frustration.
For many spy thriller fans, the exotic, international setting of Rum, Cigars, and Corpses may be just what the doctor ordered to pass a chilly winter’s weekend with either a glass of wine or a large, cozy mug of something warm. For me, on the other hand, the narrative (save its colorful and detailed descriptions of public art, namely murals and sculptures) lacked the appropriate skills to stimulate my arousal.
• It is my kindly pleasure to thank Amazon publishing, as well as Jerold Last himself, for the author-issued copy of Rum, Cigars, and Corpses in exchange for my honest review.
Analysis of Rum, Cigars, and Corpses by Jerold Last is courtesy of Reviews by Cat Ellington: https://catellingtonblog.wordpress.com
Date of Review: Friday, February 02, 2018