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by Teresa Dovalpage
Soho, March 2018
361 pages
ISBN: 1616958847

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Love comes in through the kitchen, or so a Cuban saying goes. For Matt Sullivan, it came through a food blog written by Cuban woman with whom he has struck up a long-distance relationship. He plans to propose to Yarmila and is so optimistic about his success he has brought a bridal gown to Havana with him. Alas, his beloved fails to meet him at the airport and when he finally makes it to her apartment, he finds her dead. The police consider him a person of interest, and likely a CIA agent to boot. Complicating matters, it appears Yarmila had a local boyfriend who has a short temper. Brokenhearted and confused, Matt enlists the help of Padrino, a retired policeman who is also a respected Babalawo, a practitioner of Santeria, to see if he can find out who killed his two-timing fiancee.

Yarmila's blog posts (with recipes and comments from American fans) are interleaved between chapters about Matt's experiences as he waits for the police to release his passport and Padrino's investigations. Thanks to the lack of gritty violence and abundance of recipes, this mystery falls into the cozy genre, though it has some anomalies, including nonbinary sexuality in place of more traditional romance.

The crime itself is not terrifically complex apart from the central question: who was Yarmila, really? Why did she write so charmingly about Cuban food that no Cuban could actually afford to cook? Why did she lead Matt on?

There is an abundance of interesting characters sketched out an elderly pot-smoking host at a not-quite-legal bed and breakfast, a feisty woman who runs an unlicensed restaurant, a Cuban-American who wants to take her handsome Cuban boyfriend home with her, a flirtatious kitchen worker who sings torch songs in drag at an underground nightclub, a serious-minded police lieutenant who can't help but contrast her law-abiding penury with the small luxuries her murder victim had enjoyed. The major character, though, is Cuba itself, as charming and mysterious as Yarmila, a place where the Orishas share power with party officials and the shady entrepreneurs who keep the economy and people's spirits sputtering along, finding ways to celebrate a revolution using black market goods.

Teresa Dovalpage has published numerous novels, short stories, and plays. This is her second novel in English and first mystery (though she also contributed a story to the anthology THE USUAL SANTAS). The crime and the recipes take a back seat to the rich flavor the author provides of a culture and a country so close to the US and yet so far away.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, January 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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