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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

The Assassin's Honor

This will be quite short -- but at least not non-existent, as was the case last week. The reason is that Hubby was in the VA hospital for more than a week, with most of that time in ICU. He had pneumonia with some heart complications, but is visibly better everyday. Assuming everything goes well, I’ll have some thoughts on hospitals and the VA next time, but I’m writing on another topic now because I promised to do so for La Gaceta’s edition of Friday, October 2. That’s because I want to alert you to what will be a fun event at our truly independent bookstore, Inkwood, on Thursday the 8th. Yes, even with the internet, the writing biz does require planning.

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Many of you know one of Tampa’s longtime families, the Glickmans. Attorney Ron Glickman was elected to the Hillsborough County Commission in 1984, during the era of such icons as Pam Iorio and Jan Platt, as well as the late Sylvia Kimball and Phyllis Busansky. Would that we had such giants of intelligence and integrity today!

I got to know Ron’s sister Susan Glickman when we worked together for Mike Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign. She was a brand-new graduate of the University of Texas – a pretty prestigious school – and ever since then, she has advocated for progressive causes, especially clean energy. In a 2010 article, Sunshine State News called Susan “a frequent presence in the Florida capital for years.” Just recently, she was included in Creative Loafing’s “Best of the Bay” awards for “Best at Fighting the Power Companies.” (And heaven knows, there’s need for that: former Florida Power customers will be paying forever for a nuclear plant that wasn’t built, while stockholders are suing Tampa’s historic TECO for selling itself to a Canadian company.)

So Ron and Susan have real credentials, yet Susan says that her sister Nancy “is the smart one on the family.” Nancy is married to Robert N. Macomber, who has just published the twelfth of his award-winning historical novels that include “Honor” in the titles. This one is called The Assassin’s Honor, and it is about an 1892 incident in Tampa that changed world history and crucially influenced Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain. The novel’s protagonist, Peter Wake, is a U.S. Navy intelligence officer -- but enough of a rogue that he also is a friend of Cuban rebel Jose Marti, who was the equivalent of George Washington in their respective fights for freedom from colonialism. Through daily ship’s log notations that begin on 8 December 1892 and end on 17 December, we are on both land and sea while Wake chases men who intend to kill Marti.

That really happened. Marti was poisoned with arsenic in a glass of wine at the Ybor City boardinghouse run by his allies, Paulina and Ruperto Pedroso. It was on 13th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, and to our discredit, we let the historic two-story building fall down. The land on which it stood has been tied up in politics for a half-century, ever since the Castro revolution of the early 1960s. Some argue that this locked-up “Marti Park” technically belongs to Cuba. Whether or not, I hope improved relations with that nation will include restoration and increased attention, both from Tampans and from the international visitors that Ybor City attracts.

Paulina Pedroso was a more visible activist than her husband, and I am pleased that she entered the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame back in the 1990s, when I chaired that body under Governor Lawton Chiles. More recently, my male colleagues joined me in supporting her for one of the first historic statues on Tampa’s Riverwalk. She’s at the far eastern end, as close to Ybor as she can be.

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But back to the book. The evil-doers are smart, and a hundred pages go by before our hero realizes he’s been sent on a wild goose chase: he is deceived into thinking that the target of the assassination plot is a Mayan rebel on the Yucatan peninsula, and that the perpetrators may be German. We get background on Mayan history, as well as animosities between native-native Mexicans and those Mexicans who came there from Spain or Africa only about four hundred years ago. Back at sea, Commander Wake deceives the German ships that are following his USS Bennington in several dramatic ways -- including a faux “man overboard” incident that slows the bigger, more clumsy German vessels and gains him valuable time. His ship was one of relatively few nineteenth-century ships that combined steam with sail. Hubby greatly enjoys such exploits of seamanship – enough that he quickly read the 400-page book while on two IVs in ICU. Although he was in the Army, not the Navy, he’s enjoyed maritime novels for fifty years, and he approves of the book’s details.

The adventure continues with serious storms, potential steam explosion, and difficult port docking -- as well as a snobbish Bostonian who is second-in-command and would love to see our hero fail. Not surprisingly, Wake is in trouble when he reaches Key West, as both the well-connected Bostonian and the German commanders file formal complaints. The admiral in charge, though, is more bluff than gruff, and the assignment to track down the assassination plotters still stands, even as time to do that grows shorter.

Key West also is home to Wake’s daughter, a twenty-something Protestant missionary whose values are quite different from those of her father. Her mother, Wake’s wife, died a decade or so ago, and when this novel of the series begins, he has gotten over his grief and fallen in love with Maria, the widow of a Spanish diplomat. Maria lives in Washington, but manages to get perfumed letters to him at sea: indeed, an oblique comment from her is how he figured out that Marti was the assassination target. Meanwhile, his daughter, Useppa, has fallen for a Cuban man named Cano, and whether or not Cano is a spy holds us for another hundred pages. By the time we get to Tampa – and Henry Plant’s hotels and other accurate references – the story has become a real page-turner.

So I encourage you to go to Inkwood for Macomber’s appearance, and I hope that Hubby is well enough to go with me. I look forward to hearing the author’s inside story of how the novel was researched, about Martí’s remarkable life, and how Tampa was (and remains) an integral part of the Caribbean. The timing of the release of The Assassin’s Honor also is appropriate: it comes during the 147th anniversary of Grito de Yara, October 10, 1868, when Cuba’s declaration of independence from Spain began the island’s 30-year struggle for political freedom. Tampa would play a strong role in that, too, as almost all troops departed from here in 1898, the year of final victory.

Inkwood Books is at 1216 South Armenia, and although I want to forewarn you of the confusing confluence of streets there, I’m sure it will be worth the effort. That’s Thursday, October 8, at 7 PM. You can make reservations and pre-order your book to be autographed by calling 813-253-2638.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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