With the Nobel Prize safely his and no new book percolating, Papa can turn his attention to the strange case of the harpooned friend.
When law enforcement comes calling on Ernest Hemingway in Key West, it gets a welcome warmer than it might have expected. Relatively sober at this moment in 1956, between projects and without an important woman in his life, the 58-year-old author is disposed to listen with particular interest to the tale of the late Peter Cuthbert, who was apparently speared by a king-sized harpoon. Why does this demise, piquant as it is, bring the police to Papa’s door? Phone-company records indicate that on the night of his death, Cuthbert had attempted without success to reach his friend Hemingway. Actually, friend overstates the case—occasional drinking companion would be more precise—but the writer decides to take his death personally. Cuthbert may have been little more than a petty criminal (and a pretty good watercolorist): still, attention must be paid. Haphazardly, boozily, Hemingway launches an investigation during which he confronts, among other notables, a young Fidel Castro, who tells Papa that his reasons for nosing around seem “a little thin, a little airy.” A palpable hit, Fidel.
Former Village Voice film critic Atkinson writes well, but you really have to like his Hemingway—no easy task—for this debut effort to work.