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Formats
Paperback Details
  • 03/2024
  • 979-8882966644 B0CX8SJZR1
  • 387 pages
  • $15.00
Ebook Details
  • 02/2024
  • 979-8-218-96461-0 B0CVVCZDTR
  • 389 pages
  • $2.00
Richard Bareford
Author, Illustrator
Veterans Key

In 1935 Fred, a shell-shocked World War veteran, wins a suicidal bet with a ghost from his past. The payoff is more than he could ever imagine: the love of his dream girl, great wealth, and the respect of those who had disdained him. But there are conditions attached and the dead will have their due.

Over the course of Labor Day weekend, Fred becomes enmeshed with three young women. Blonde coed Cindy offers him sex in exchange for playing the fall guy in a bank job. Her best friend Ella, a German Jew and fervent Communist, has a terrible secret she will do anything to protect, displaying an aptitude for deception and violence. Local girl Bernice Mae is infatuated with Fred, but when he falls for Cindy, she accepts an illicit invitation from his brutal rival. The arrival of a hurricane brings death for many and opportunity for some.

Veterans Key is based on actual events. It is set in the Florida Keys, with major excursions to period Havana, New York, and Miami. The novel is a deep dive into Depression-era America, its prejudices, politics, poverty, crime, technology, and humor. Central are the “Forgotten Men”, World War veterans who never readjusted to civilian life, a large proportion afflicted with battle trauma and now relegated to Federal relief camps, working dollar-a-day coolie jobs. Many of the characters are real, their actions and in some cases their words taken from historical records. All behave plausibly. The literary style borrows from the edgy films and fiction of the 1930s with such stock characters as sassy dames, tough guy gangsters, dogged lawmen, and sweet ingénues. Veterans Key adapts themes from Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not (mostly the 1937 book, partly the 1944 movie), and delivers a heavy dose of 1940s noir, à la John Huston’s film, Key Largo. Features: map, extensive historical notes, detailed lists of sources and acknowledgements.

Reviews
Chanticleer Book Reviews

Veterans Key opens in 1935 as hundreds of derelict vets of the Great War are working in ramshackle government relief camps bridging a gap in the Overseas Highway connecting Key West with the mainland.

One hot August morning, two striking co-eds, Cindy and Ella, step off a train in Islamorada to be greeted with the crude cat-calls of beery veterans. What happens next is unexpected. Cindy singles out Fred, a soft-spoken, muscular vet drinking a Coke. He offers her a sip. She accepts, flirts, and invites him to her hotel in Key West for an amorous rendezvous.

Eager to meet Cindy, Fred has no inkling that he has in fact been chosen to participate in a carefully planned bank robbery in Havana, the results of which will have enormous consequences for everyone involved. But this pivotal event is barely an introduction to the riveting mystery that is Veterans Key, a serio-comic novel with moments of pathos, terror, and more twists and turns than a cottonmouth snake.

Cindy’s brother Emilio is a Cuban revolutionary intent on avenging his torture by deposed General Machado’s secret police. Cindy’s father is a former official of the target bank and his knowledge of the contents of a certain safe deposit box is critical for the heist. Fred’s role is to play the patsy in the robbery and the investigation that will surely follow.

As the story unfolds, the characters’ various involvements with good guys and thugs, including the Cuban police, American FBI agents, Communists, Nazi spies, and mobsters from the Meyer Lansky gang make for a rich mix of deceptions, lies and misdirection. Ultimately Ella may be the most complex figure of them all, a 17-year-old German Jew living an impossible balancing act.

Bareford creates a vivid and compelling adventure by weaving the historical with the plausible.

The disdain of camp officials for the men in their charge and the devastating aftermath of the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane adds gravitas to the deceptively light tone throughout much of the book.

Veterans Key evokes other distinctive novels including The Horse’s Mouth and A Confederacy of Dunces, not for their story lines but for the originality of their thinking. Readers may appreciate the nods to Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. There is no “predictable” here, only the sheer joy of an original work that commands your attention on its own terms. Highly recommended!”

Formats
Paperback Details
  • 03/2024
  • 979-8882966644 B0CX8SJZR1
  • 387 pages
  • $15.00
Ebook Details
  • 02/2024
  • 979-8-218-96461-0 B0CVVCZDTR
  • 389 pages
  • $2.00
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