Book Excerpt: ‘The Last Train To Key West’

We don’t know about you, but quarantine has us reading a lot of books and always looking for new things to read.

There is only so much television a person can handle.

Today we’re bringing you an excerpt from the novel The Last Train To Key West.


In 1935 three women are forever changed when one of the most powerful hurricanes in history barrels toward the Florida Keys in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton’s captivating new novel.

Everyone journeys to Key West searching for something. For the tourists traveling on Henry Flagler’s legendary Overseas Railroad, Labor Day weekend is an opportunity to forget the economic depression gripping the nation. But one person’s paradise can be another’s prison, and Key West-native Helen Berner yearns to escape.

The Cuban Revolution of 1933 left Mirta Perez’s family in a precarious position. After an arranged wedding in Havana, Mirta arrives in the Keys on her honeymoon. While she can’t deny the growing attraction to the stranger she’s married, her new husband’s illicit business interests may threaten not only her relationship, but her life.

Elizabeth Preston’s trip from New York to Key West is a chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles as a result of the Wall Street crash. Her quest takes her to the camps occupied by veterans of the Great War and pairs her with an unlikely ally on a treacherous hunt of his own.

Over the course of the holiday weekend, the women’s paths cross unexpectedly, and the danger swirling around them is matched only by the terrifying force of the deadly storm threatening the Keys.



It takes me far longer than it should after he’s left to collect myself, to turn my attention back to the water steps away from me. 

It’s strange how different beaches can be, how their individual characters can make them so distinct. 

Cuba is beautiful. 

Islamorada is something else, entirely. 

The landscape is peppered with heavy brush, rendering my dainty sandals practically useless as the ground scrapes at my feet. Branches snag at the skirt of my dress. There’s an almost sinister quality to the landscape, as though the flora and fauna aren’t afraid to snap back at us interlopers and swallow us whole.

A rustling sound in the mangroves makes me jump. A dark snake slithers past me, inches away from my exposed feet, its body undulating in the dirt. 

I scream—

A man emerges from the mangroves at the edge of the property, wearing a pair of ratty overalls with a dirty shirt beneath them. His hair is matted with sweat and sea, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. 

One of the gardeners, I imagine, his tanned skin roughened from days spent working under the sun. 

I give an embarrassed laugh. “I’m sorry I screamed. I must have startled you. There was a snake, and well…” I gesture ruefully toward my ridiculous footwear. “I didn’t exactly pack for these conditions.”

He just stares back at me. 

I hurry past the spot where the snake crossed in front of me. 

The weight of his gaze follows me as I walk toward the mangroves, heading toward the opening to the stretch of beach. In Cuba, I was friendly with the staff—most of them had been with the family since I was a little girl. Our gardener, Carlos, taught me all about flowers, and I used to help him plant at the start of each season. If I were back home, I would walk up to the man and introduce myself. But here, the rules are different. I am an outsider, noticeably so. The staff keeps their distance, and I can’t help but think it isn’t merely because I don’t quite fit in here, but more likely because I am Anthony Cordero’s wife. 

People are deferential and it isn’t just because of his wealth. They fear my husband.

When I look back, the man is gone. 


Author Bio: Originally from Florida, Chanel Cleeton grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London, and a master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law.

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