The Last Cigar
Reviewed by Kathy Stickles for Reader Views (12/2022)
The Last Cigar by Thomas Mello is a novel that I did not expect to enjoy quite as much as I did. The book was not at all what I expected and I commend the author on his research into the Portuguese culture and his ability to weave the story into something that was so interesting. It really gives the reader a sense of adventure as we follow these six generations from one family on their very different journeys.
The story begins in Portugal in the late 1800s with Francisco and believe me when I say it starts with a bang and does not disappoint in any way as it progresses. As the reader follows this family through the years, we get to know them so well. From the very beginning, we are gifted with a tale that covers the family struggles, in each of the generation, and how each character handles what is thrown at them with the main goal of making life even more prosperous and satisfying for whomever follows. We go from Portugal in the early 1800s to America beginning in the late 1800s and witness each male from the family and their story before moving on to the next. The novel is packed with action including revenge, finding employment that gives the character a sense of fulfillment and security, loves and births, and even illegal boxing. As the readers, we are introduced to so many fascinating characters in the family, from naval captains to policeman, and even a real-life Robin Hood.
What I enjoyed the most were the traditions that are followed through the Portuguese culture by each male member of the family. They were truly charming and helped to keep me feeling so involved in the story. For example, there is a tradition that whenever the son in a family turns 21, the father will meet with his son and offer him the opportunity to prove whether he can fight with and beat his father. It shows just how respectful each child is of their elders when they view this as an offer that should never be accepted. And then there is the tradition of presenting cigars to be smoked from a special box whenever there is an important meeting. The cigars are offered to each person attending the gathering, whether these are family meetings or important business meetings, and sharing the cigars gives everyone there the time to reflect and share before they get down to business. These are such lovely traditions that really immerse the reader in this culture, and they are very nicely woven into the story.
As a debut novel I found The Last Cigar to be very well-written and one that kept me completely absorbed in the story from beginning to end. If I had one complaint it would be that the final couple of generations were a bit short-changed in terms of their stories, but I understand that unfortunately, the book had to end at some point. The characters are so well-developed and interesting and Mr. Mello showed a true ability to describe the places and people so that the reader felt they were there and could really “see” it. It is a book filled with traditions, family values, and respect and I would recommend it to all.