By Peter Marwitz.
Ottawa: National Security Affairs, 1995
ISBN # 1-613-565-0670 .
175 pages.

NOT A comment on the book: But comments on why I didn't read the book
By Bob Corbett
May 2005

I used to read a large number of books on Haiti. I still read some, but fewer than in the years 1983-1994 when I published a hard copy magazine on Haiti. In those years I tried to have some review or reviews for each issue.

When I do read a Haiti-related book they tend to be in one of several categories:

When I finished my more recent read, a non-Haitian related book, I decided to go to my Haiti shelves and pick another Haiti-related book. I keep some 200-300 unread books handy and choose with some care. As the old saying rightly says: “So many books, so little time.” I can only read 30-40 books a year so I am quite choosy as to what I read. If a book doesn’t grab me in the first ½ hour to ¾ hour, I tend to put it aside.

It was in this context that I pulled BLACK MAPLE off the shelf. I had never heard of author Peter Marwitz but the idea of a Canadian thriller set in Haiti made me giggle.

Twenty or so years ago when teaching full time (I gave up full-time teaching in 1989 when I was just 50), I would often come home, tired, plop down in my recliner, pour a small tumbler of scotch and read the likes of Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins or John le Carre. In these novels the stakes were always gigantic, as huge as the James Bond movies only presented with no humor. Some bad buys were always out to control the world, the whole world, and major western intelligence agencies, normally the CIA or MI6, with one lone superhero agent, a tiny man of steel, would topple all evil and restore order. So what that he offed dozens of folks, bad, medium and some decent folks of unfortunate necessity? It was the price of saving the capitalist system.

Eventually I bored of these flights of fantasy. The prodigious technologies and physical deeds of both the good guys and bad (no ambiguity on who was who was tolerated) were just so far fetched and so repetitive that I had to take my “release” into other genre of literature.

It was thus I sat down and first read of Canadian agent Peter Marin arriving in Santo Domingo to lead a team of Canadian spooks working under cover in Haiti. The environment was familiar, if more humble, and I wondered what I was in for.

Alas, after 22 pages I stopped reading and have now turned to a non-fiction book on The Haitian Revolution. I think it will be more to my taste. And, this transition is why I write this first-ever “non comments” on a book. I didn’t leave this book because I thought is was a bad book, just that it was a book I either couldn’t figure out, or if it was what I thought it might have been, then I just wasn’t in the mood. I don’t read books because I have to or am expected to. Only because I WANT to.

I think the novel BLACK MAPEL is either: The very worst spy novel every published, or a brilliant and chic satire of the genre. I didn’t read enough of the novel to decide for sure which it was, but in a generous and expansive mood, I suspect it is a satire.

Some of the clues that appear in the first 22 pages and lead me to this conclusion are:

I was very close to giving up on this novel. By now I was fairly convinced it was satire and rather chic satire at that, which just isn’t my cup of tea, no matter how well it is done. It was one last scene on only page 22 that sent me scurrying back to the bookshelf for a new book.

Paul meets up with Celine, a beautiful Haitian woman of 29 with whom he has obviously had a relationship of some sort. She is only the beach for this “secret” meeting in a shimmering pink bikini and while the language is sensuous and suggestive, they never kiss or touch, except him touching her ELBOW. Just when it appears for sure that they will break this tension and make wild and passionate love the following exchange takes place:

Paul shifted away slightly from Céline, took from his backpack a container of Ombrelle sunscreen lotion to apply over his face, hairy chest and limbs. He could not reach his back so Céline, having finished reading the letter, suggested that he lay on his stomach and she would apply the lotion. He looked away from her and closed his eyes as she dabbed the lotion on her hands and smoothly, soothingly spread it over the tense muscles of the nape, upper shoulders and back, down to his waistline,

The sensation of her touch stirred him and made him think of the unthinkable, the heat of the sand not helping his sudden condition.

As she finished the application of lotion, she leaned over and spoke quietly into his left ear, “Thank you for coming here, Paul and for bringing the letter.”

He kept his eyes closed, saying nothing, fighting within himself to remain somehow aloof yet not too distant, despite the male urge to respond otherwise. She lay back, within her own thoughts, her right arm slightly touching his in unspoken communion, while he lay quietly appreciating the rare moment and seemingly asleep in the mid-morning heat.

The deliciousness of the situation ebbed away as operational priorities reasserted themselves and interfered with his reverie. He sat upright and looked at her as she leaned on her right elbow with a soft, moist smile on her lips. Two young children were down at the ocean front picking up seashells about two hundred feet away, Céline having watched them, while he dozed.

“You Just missed a beautiful sight,” she related softly to Paul as he stirred, “that little boy was with that girl when he needed a leak. So, he stopped and pulled down his tight shorts with difficulty and peed, staring down at his dickie. The little girl waited for him, watching and walked with him again picking up more things. Then, perhaps reminded of her own need, she pulled down her pants, bent over and peed. The boy watched and waited for her. Now they are both going away doing their thing as if nothing unusual occurred.” She assessed, “At that age, children have not acquired the so-called morality of the human race. Instead they are innocently curious.”

He looked over there and reflected that these kids, like those in Canada or elsewhere lived in their own little world, comfortable with each other and quite oblivious to the contrast of the salt and pepper couple nearby.

“How fortunate we are, Céline, you and me sharing this instant; the children in their moment of privacy and undiluted innocence: it cannot last for adult human rationality and its handmaiden, realism continually assert their cruel elements and ugly presence forcing everyone into choices,., arrangements.., or situations he or she might not otherwise have been inclined to accept.”

Ah yes, and away I went. I wish Paul Marwitz well with the novel (it was actually published 10 years ago), and for those who enjoy the genre it might well be lots of fun. Just not my cup of tea.

Bob Corbett

Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett