The Last Twelve Miles

A Novel

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Pub Date 04 Jun 2024 | Archive Date 11 Jun 2024
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Two real, brilliant women on two sides of the law, in a daring game of cat and mouse

1926, Washington, D. C.

In the Prohibition Rum Wars, the Coast Guard is losing. Eleven million gallons of illegal liquor a year have created a booming smuggling economy, with criminals wreaking havoc on American cities, and everyday citizens thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam. But the Coast Guard has a new, secret weapon—one of the husband-and-wife pair who invented cryptanalysis and trained Great War soldiers—to crack smuggler codes, intercept traffic, and destroy the 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.


When Marie Waite—wife of a rumrunner and mother of two little ones—notices discrepancies in cargo, she insists on accompanying her husband, Charlie, on a run from their home in Miami to Nassau. There, not only does Marie witness her husband's shortcomings, but she becomes enthralled by Cleo Lythgoe, "The Bahama Queen," who announces her retirement while regaling the thugs at the bar with tales of murder and mayhem on the high seas. In spite of Cleo's warnings about a "new man in the government" who seems to know where they are before they get there, Marie knows an opportunity when she sees 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. What she didn't count on was that the more sophisticated her operation grows, the more she comes on the radar of the feds, nabbing criminals by the daily dozen. Once Marie knows who she's up against, she's more determined than ever to triumph.

On the other side of the law, Elizebeth is the only codebreaker battling scores of smugglers. From solving thousands of intercepted codes and ciphers, to riding along on Coast Guard patrols, to national travel, to testifying in court rooms—all while managing her household—the strain begins to wear on her. Once the work becomes personal, and she discovers Marie as a premier adversary, Elizebeth's desire to catch the woman becomes almost obsessive.

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

Two real, brilliant women on two sides of the law, in a daring game of cat and mouse

1926, Washington, D. C.

In the Prohibition Rum Wars, the Coast Guard is losing. Eleven million gallons of illegal...

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ISBN 9781728299839
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Average rating from 54 members

Featured Reviews

A brilliant histfic novel about two gutsy women: a codebreaker for the U.S. Coast Guard and a rumrunner using coded communication during Prohibition. Robuck gives us such a beautifully written portrait of each woman that we find ourselves cheering for both. Unputdownable!

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Hey Hollywood! This book should be made into a movie!
Absolutely loved this historical fiction novel of two intelligent, sly, tenacious, determined women on opposite sides of the law during Prohibition and the "Rum Wars".
Reading this book was such a joy! I loved learning about cryptanalysist, Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who's extensive career puts her in a consulting position to assist the Coast Guard to intercept and crack communication codes of "rumrunners" in order to apprehend them within the 12 miles of US waters off the Florida Keys. Elizebeth (SIGNET) was responsible for deciphering coded messages between radio communication of smugglers and their fleet while they transported contraband from Cuba and the Bahamas into US waters. Elizebeth narrates from her perspectives of work, marriage, motherhood, and her archnemesis, "Spanish Marie",
It is Marie's perspective and narrative voice that makes this book a huge 5 stars for me. She is the Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde. Her humble beginnings, desire for change, poor choice in men, and scrappy antics, are fun to read and add layers to her character but it's her abundant ambition and fearless desire for wealth and status that makes her the perfect antihero.
The ending of the book was perfect.
Thank you Net Galley and Erika Robuck for the opportunity to read this story. I plan to buy copies for my reader friends after publication.

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Summary: The legend of Spanish Marie lives on in Florida and Cuba. During the Prohibition Era, Marie and Charlie Waite ran a rum-running empire, transporting and wholesaling liquor from Cuba and Bahamas to the US. On the opposing side was the US Coastguard and a husband-and-wife team specialized in cryptanalysis, or the deciphering of secret codes and messages. Elizebeth and William Friedman worked as agents of the US government in cracking the codes used by smugglers to communicate and transport their goods. The title refers to the fact that there is a distance of 90 nautical miles from Cuba to Florida; for 78 of those miles their cargo was perfectly legal on the seas, but for the last 12 miles in US waters their cargo of liquor was a criminal offense.

Thoughts: This was a well-researched and conceived novel depicting the author’s vision of the battle of wits between Marie and Elizebeth. Marie is a fully developed character in this story, struggling with her alcoholic and temperamental husband, and aspiring to legendary status among the smugglers in the goal of providing herself and her children with all the trappings of the good life. Marie desperately wants to overcome the poverty and shame of her early life and to be important and memorable, however she has no intention of spending time in prison. Elizebeth is motivated by the sheer love of cracking a mystery which seems impenetrable to other people. This is a novel of historical fiction, in which the author acknowledges that not all the facts are known about Spanish Marie and much of what exists is legend and lore. However, she does an amazing job crafting a story which blends historical fact with her interpretation of events and personalities. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and recommend it to any fan of historical fiction or anyone with an interest in the rum-running trade during Prohibition.

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Step back in time, with this compelling story of two women—both strong, intelligent, and gifted. One uses her gifts for good, the other for gain. Shining a light on their vulnerabilities, you'll find yourself rooting for both characters, somehow wanting each of them to come out on top—hoping the Queen of the Rumrunners will change her ways, let go of the darkness and live in the light.
With her in-depth knowledge of these two women in history, Erika Robuck does an amazing job of painting a picture of a bygone era, while taking creative liberties to make it sparkle.
And the cover...Swoon...

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