New Novel Raises Questions about the Cuban Missile Crisis

Guest Blogger David R. Stokes is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, broadcaster, columnist, and ordained minister. His personal website is: On twitter he is @davidrstokes. He is the author of the nationally acclaimed The Shooting Salvationist.

Fifty years ago, the world came very close to blowing up.  That epic nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union playing out on the Caribbean island of Cuba brought us “eyeball to eyeball” with the unthinkable.  One historian wrote that we were “one minute to midnight.”  It was east vs. west, communism vs. capitalism, collectivism vs. freedom, and most of all—John F. Kennedy vs. Nikita Khrushchev.

I was all of six years of age when this occurred in October of 1962, but for whatever reason, I was pretty aware of things—for a first grader at Monroe Elementary School in Taylor, Michigan in the Detroit area.  Maybe it was because I had parents who were news junkies and who talked about world affairs with me. By that age, I had my first history books. They were given away at the local A&P store with the right amount of detergent purchase, as I recall.  I loved them.  President Kennedy, a man who clearly loved history, wrote the foreword to the series.

Or maybe my particular interest in what was going on during those famous “13 days” was kindled by the drill we did in Miss Benson’s class – the one where we had to get under our desks and she said: “Don’t look at the flash.”

But we all lived to see another day—and all those since.  Nuclear bombs never made their way from Cuba to here.  Mr. Kennedy had been pretty clear to Mr. Khrushchev and his politburo cronies that if any missile left the island dominated by Fidel Castro, it would be regarded by the United States as an attack from the Soviet Union on the United States. And JFK told the American people on Monday, October 22, 1962 that this would result in “a full retaliatory response” from us.  The fact that he had difficulty pronouncing the word “retaliatory” didn’t seem to get in the way of the message’s clarity and forcefulness.

The Cuban Missile Crisis has been studied ever since.  I even wrote my Master’s thesis on it when I was working on my political science degree many, many moons ago.  It’s a complicated story that cannot be fully explained with clichés, such as, “Kennedy stood up to Khrushchev and he backed down.”  Not that simple.

And beyond the public story is backstory – a shadowy land, where politicos negotiated and spies manipulated.  This is also where the novelist – even a first timer – can thrive.

In Camelot’s Cousin, I have written a story that may change the way many think about what really happened during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. From the Bay of Pigs, to the Berlin Wall, to the tension of October 1962, and even what happened in Dallas a little more than a year later, I have tried to weave fact and fiction together in a compelling way.  As I read books and dug around, I found some very interesting circumstantial clues and coincidences that I used to write the book.

Of course, Camelot’s Cousin is a novel and clearly a work of fiction, but many who have read it have asked if I’ve used a fictional medium to sort-of tell a non-fiction story. The answer is no. But I love the question, because it tells me that the story is captured the imagination of a growing number of readers.

When a Dad tries to dig a hole in his Northern Virginia yard to bury the remains of the family pet, he chances upon something buried years before – a mysterious briefcase. Its contents include a journal with cryptic writing. He turns to his friend – and boss – Templeton Davis, a former Rhodes scholar and popular national radio talk show host, for help.

They soon realize that they are in possession of materials hidden more than sixty years earlier by a notorious deep cover agent for the Soviet Union. And buried with the materials were clues to a great last secret of the Cold War – the identity of another agent, the most effective spy in the history of espionage.

Long a mere footnote in history, the story of this man’s treachery reaches the pinnacles of power and influences the course of geopolitics. The trail leads to a picturesque town in Vermont, the streets of New York City, the corridors of power in Washington, DC – and significantly, Oxford, England, where Davis realizes that the beautiful city of spires on the Thames was once also a city of spies.

The spies of Oxford may never have reached the level of public notoriety as those from that other British stronghold of academia – Cambridge – but clearly the story has never been completely known—or told. And it is a very dangerous mine of detail in which to dig, a fact borne out by a couple of suspicious deaths left in the wake of Templeton Davis’s travels.

Davis discovers that at a moment when the world came closest to unparalleled disaster, secrets were being betrayed at the highest levels. He will also come to understand that what he has learned connects to a time of great sorrow for mankind.

At a crucial moment, Templeton Davis quickly develops a bond borne of necessity with a beautiful young woman from Russia – someone with her own secrets. And when they compare notes, the two unlikely heroes find themselves in grave danger, yet poised to rock the world.

If you are at all interested in the world as it was 50 years ago—on the brink of annihilation – or if you just like a good story – then Camelot’s Cousin might just be your next must read.

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  • Finished CC last night. Hope to have a review up in a few days. Great book for baby boomers who will identify with many events. Excellent primer for the YA audience interested in history.

    • I remember the missile crisis well. I was in college, and we were glued to our TV sets. Those who didn’t live through the Cold War will never understand the fear we had about those Warheads in Cub. We didn’t think Khrushchev would fire them. But we knew that, given the chance, Castro would.

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