A Willa Jansson Mystery
Fiction. Paperback. 338 pages.
I haven't covered many novels here in the past, but decided to make an exception. I'll explain why in a moment...
Attorney Willa Jansson has finally managed to unload some of her sixties baggage, but her rebellious mother can't seem to mellow out. When Mom heads to Cuba with a band of graying "brigadistas" Willa figures it's just a pilgrimage to lefty Graceland. But then the rest of the group returns without her mother, and Willa fears the worst. Risking disbarment for "trading with the enemy" she rushes to the rescue - and discovers that her mother may have finally gotten herself into more trouble than she can get herself out of...
From the list in the front of the book, this must be #7 in the Willa Jansson series - and I've missed out on all the others. Ordinarily, a novel about a female attorney who is working out her relationship with her mother while also trying to come to peace with the end of an adulterous relationship... well, I normally prefer more action-oriented material. The bit about Havana is what drew me in - I'm a sucker for Cuban culture, Cuban women, Cuban food...
In a deadly game of cat and mouse, Willa follows her mother's path from Havana to Mexico City, from California back to Havana, getting manipulated, misled, and nearly arrested along the way. Soon she finds two angry governments, at least one ruthless killer, and her old flame, homicide Lieutenant Surgelato, are hot on her trail. Racing against time, Willa realizes that, much more than politics and police work, it is intuition that will help her find her mother - and those things that only a daughter knows.
The book reads well, the plot is convoluted, the characters aren't deep but they are interesting, and the portrait of a seedy Communist state rings true. Yes, I sort of skipped through the romance parts, and Willa gets a bit whiny and unassertive at times, but the rest of the book worked for me.
So what's the gaming angle here? Well, with so many Pulp and adventure-oriented wargaming rules out there now, I got to wondering: can this novel be wargamed?
Chapter 2 (p. 6):
All the airplane needed was a few chickens and goats - God knew it smelled just like a rural Mexican bus. It had less leg room, though; when I squirmed, the woman in front of me cried out. Or maybe she'd noticed the flickering light fixtures dangling from wires, the doorless overhead shelves unburdened with oxygen masks, the cardboard showing through thin seat fabric. Looking out the window at the plane's chipped paint and loosely connected wings, I considered getting up and walking out. I'd been considering it for three sweltering hours punctuated by the squeal of an engine that failed to engage...
The answer, I believe, is yes - with some adjustments to add a bit more action, to let the protagonist travel with some sidekicks instead of solo, and with an umpire who can remind the players not to get too out of hand (I mean, there are some things you don't do in Cuba!). There are enough factions here, enough of a plot, enough settings to make a Pulpish mystery mini-campaign.
But does anyone make the figures? Well, you'd need a female attorney in tourist clothing, fellow tourists, Cuban officials and soldiers, a reporter, a homicide detective in plain clothes, a Mexican publisher (businessman), some CIA operatives, and a cagey old Communist police chief (he'd be the hardest one, I think).
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .