The Cigar Seed is an ambitious debut delving into the world of terrorism, patriotism and shows where the lines blur between the two. I deliberately used the word ambitious, because it is never easy to present as likeable someone prepared to help wipe out hundreds of innocent people to further a political aim, but with his heroine, Paul Chiswick achieved this.
Terese Rodriguez is naive, inexperienced and passionate about the Basque country. She joins ETA, a group known for horrific acts of violence in an attempt to gain independence from France and Spain. Having found information which could be used to obtain a deadly virus, she is sent to Cuba to blackmail a long-retired son of the Cuban revolution.
I had a couple of problems with the storyline. The first of these was the fact that Terese was chosen for the mission. As I said earlier, she is both naive and inexperienced, but I assumed there must be a plot twist which would explain why she was picked ahead of other members of ETA (far more experienced and ruthless). Sadly, there was no such plot twist, leaving me to conclude that she was sent purely because the author needed her to be there.
The second problem was the ease with which she was able to carry out her mission. Not only did she find the initial contact person she needed almost as soon as she’d arrived in Cuba, but he was perfectly willing to take her where she needed to go. (This raised more false hopes in my mind that this could be a major plot device. I prayed that he knew who she was and was playing a deep game, but it wasn’t to be.)
The blackmail information, although credible if the only aim was to exhort money, was nowhere near strong enough to make the Cuban’s subsequent acts plausible. In effect, she forced him to put himself and members of his family in a position where they would be executed if caught. In such a scenario, scandal over an ancient indiscretion or certain death, no one would willingly choose death, but the Cuban did.
Having outlined the negatives, the positives are many. Chiswick is incredibly talented when it comes to scene setting. Wherever the storyline took the players, the various countries came to life on the page. His heroine has more than her fair share of emotional and actual problems to deal with, giving the reader strong reasons to root for her. The passion of the Basque Separatists shines through with chilling credibility and one can admire their aim, if not the methods chosen to achieve it.