Thursday, June 6, 2024

Review - - The Last Twelve Miles

The Last Twelve Miles
by Erika Robuck
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Release Date: June 4, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

Two real, brilliant women on opposite sides of the law, in a deadly game of cat and mouse…

1926. Washington, D.C.

The Coast Guard is losing the Prohibition Rum War, but they have a new, secret weapon to crack smuggler codes, intercept traffic, and destroy the rum trade one skiff at a time. That secret weapon is a 5'2" mastermind in heels, who also happens to be a wife and mother: Mrs. Elizebeth Smith Friedman, one half of the husband-and-wife pair who invented cryptanalysis. 


Cleo Lythogoe, The Bahama Queen, announces her retirement while regaling the thugs at the bar with tales of murder and mayhem on the high seas. Marie Waite, listening in, knows an opportunity when she hears it, and she wants the crown for herself so badly she can taste it. So begins Marie's plan to rise as rumrunner royalty long enough to get her family in the black. But the more sophisticated her operation grows, the more she appears on the radar of the feds.

Meanwhile, Elizebeth is the only codebreaker battling scores of smugglers. Despite the strain of solving thousands of intercepted messages, traveling the country, and testifying in court, Elizabeth's work becomes personal—especially when she discovers the identity of her premier adversary is the notorious Marie Waite. 

From the glamorous world of D.C. Intelligence to the sultry shores of the Straits of Florida, The Last Twelve Miles is based on the true story of two women masterminds trying to outwit each other in a dangerous and fascinating high stakes game.

PJ's Thoughts:
Two women. Two sides of the law. Which one will win? Or, will either?
Erika Robuck brings readers a work of fiction inspired by real women and real events during a tumultuous and fascinating time in U.S. history. I recently learned about Elizebeth Smith Friedman while reading a historical fiction novel written by another author (click to read my review). When I heard about Robuck's book, which focuses on Friedman's work during Prohibition with the Coast Guard in Florida's coastal waters and the Caribbean, specifically matching wits with the notorious smuggler, Spanish Marie, I was all in. 
There's plenty of high seas action and suspense in this novel but I love the amount of time Robuck also spends developing the characters, especially codebreaker Elizebeth and rumrunner Marie. The story is told from each of their perspectives which gives us unfettered insight into their thoughts, fears, and motivations, enabling the reader to really get to know each of them. There are so many layers to these strong, determined women, each a mother, wife, and brilliant strategist making a name for herself in a man's world, albeit in very different ways, while also trying to balance that with being a good mother and supportive partner. 
You would think it would be clear who is in the right and who is in the wrong, and in some cases it is, but all is not black and white. I had no trouble being invested in Elizebeth's character as well as those who worked with her in their battle against the rumrunners. But there are also characters with shades of gray within both the Coast Guard and the smuggling community. Marie, in particular, is someone who is difficult to put in one box. There are many layers to this woman that may have readers on the fence about what they want to happen to her. Kudos to an author who can fashion such a complex character who even though she does bad things is still able to garner sympathy and support. I was on pins and needles to the very end, waiting to discover how things would play out with Elizebeth and Marie while still not sure how I wanted them to play out (Be sure to read the author's notes at the end of the book to discover what happened to the real Marie).
Sense of time and place is also an important facet of this book and something Robuck does very well. She nails the descriptions of Miami, the Keys, and Cuba, drawing readers into a lush, tropical paradise, sultry and beautiful on the surface while only slightly hiding its corrupt underbelly. Prohibition was a unique time in the country's history and its many layers are captured well in this story.


  1. A lot of things are rarely black and white. sounds like quite the read and something I would really enjoy. And that some is based on fact also draws me in.

  2. I am a fan of Elizabeth Smith Friedman. She was remarkable on so many levels. Thanks for the review and an introduction to another new to me author.

  3. This sounds like a good candidate for a book club read and discussion. Thank you for the review.