Title: Cuban Bluff
Author: Nigel West
West, Nigel (1991). Cuban Bluff: A Documentary Novel of the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Crown
Date Posted: February 25, 2013
West, a historian, and former Member of Parliament, tells the story in a “documentary novel” of the Cuban missile crisis from the bottom up so that spies rather than Kennedys have the starring roles. Readers who have trouble remembering why we all used to worry so about the now seemingly harmless Russians may benefit from this fictional treatment of a very real event, the Kennedy-Khrushchev face-off over the installation of ballistic missiles in newly communist Cuba.
Beginning with the defection of a Soviet intelligence officer and his family in Helsinki, West follows a number of apparently unrelated low-level intelligence discoveries that, when seen together, lead the British and American spy factories to the discovery of the Soviet missile installations 90 miles from Florida. Much of the discovery appears to be clue to the clever theorizing of Tom Waters, a British signals intelligence worker who spots telltale silences around Soviet freighters steaming from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. Waters moves with the story from Cyprus to Bermuda and continues to make important finds as a result of keen intelligence and dumb luck. Others spies are of course involved. A French diplomat working with the Americans is able to mix business with pleasure as he picks up information in the arms of a beautiful, high-ranking Fidelista. Russian Col. Oleg Penkovsky, in the pay of the Americans, spills important secrets as long as he can. And there are all those hard-working spy planes and primitive satellites whizzing over Havana. The journalistic style fails to capture the tension of the era, but the spywork fascinates.