Death Comes in through the Kitchen
by Teresa Dovalpage
Death Comes in through the Kitchen
Set in Havana during the Black Spring of 2003, a charming but poison-laced culinary mystery reveals the darker side of the modern Revolution, complete with authentic Cuban recipes
Havana, Cuba, 2003: Matt, a San Diego journalist, arrives in Havana to marry his girlfriend, Yarmila, a 24-year-old Cuban woman whom he first met through her food blog. But Yarmi isn’t there to meet him at the airport, and when he hitches a ride to her apartment, he finds her lying dead in the bathtub.
With Yarmi’s murder, lovelorn Matt is immediately embroiled in a Cuban adventure he didn’t bargain for. The police and secret service have him down as their main suspect, and in an effort to clear his name, he must embark on his own investigation into what really happened. The more Matt learns about his erstwhile fiancée, though, the more he realizes he had no idea who she was at all—but did anyone?
I was immediately intrigued by this book as a result of the title and the setting. Admittedly, I know virtually nothing about Cuba, its history, nor its relationship with the US (I can say that as a Brit, although I probably shouldn’t!) Anyway, I picked up the book and jumped right in.
I wasn’t disappointed as huge, colourful characters with larger than life personalities jumped off the page. Vivid settings and intricate details brought vibrant stories alive.
Matt, a hopeless romantic, planning to propose to his girlfriend, Yarmi, carries a huge wedding dress through the airport – right from the start, it is obvious this plan won’t end as he intends, since his American co-traveller, Anne, has already convinced him to “pretend” to the customs officials that the dress is hers.
When Yarmi is not there to meet him, he reluctantly agrees to a lift from Anne’s Cuban boyfriend. Together they set off for Yarmi’s apartment, only to find her dead. He is distraught, and gets taken under the wing of Yarmi’s friend (and “business partner in the restaurant trade”) Isabel. As he tries to reconcile Yarmi’s tales with what he sees before him, it’s evident that he has been tricked, although the extent is not clear until much later on.
Staying in the “penthouse” – a shed on the top floor of Isabel’s building – he is exposed to some realities he does not expect. In particular, a metal bat wielding Pato Macho – who turns out to be his rival for Yarmi’s affections. The next day, he moves to stay in the same guest house as his fellow traveller, Anne, where the sofa is softer, the water is hotter and the air con works.
With his passport in the hands of the police, he has to endure questioning, but has more than enough questions of his own to find answers for. He seeks the help of a former cop, the Padrino, to find out who killed Yarmi. The clues comes in thick and fast, although not in any logical sequence, which makes for a great mystery. Unravelling them, and putting the pieces together is all part of the fun.
Yarmila is definitely not the woman he thought he was to marry. Her blog posts are intended to attract foreign interest to Cuba, and her friendships within the community are not what they seem. Labelled as a young woman, loved by all, we soon learn that Yarmi is much more than an employee at the Linguistics Institute with a love of Cuban food – even her family members have a totally different story to tell.
The recipes are integral to the plot, yet often seem quite random – which, in itself, is quite genius. Whenever I thought I knew something to be true, there would be a spin. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, it was unlike anything I’ve read before, and both informed and entertained me. It felt like an old-school mystery, with an exotic setting, a different culture and a cast of spirited characters.
You know, sometimes, it’s just good to read a story for the story itself – without having any preconceived ideas or facts to consider. For me, this was pure escapism and entertainment – and I loved it for that very reason (plus, I’m partial to a good natilla 😉 ).
¡Que aproveche! desde España
About the author
She has published nine novels and three collections of short stories. Her English-language novels are A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004), Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010), and Death Comes in Through the Kitchen (Soho Crime, 2018), a culinary mystery with authentic Cuban recipes.
Her novellas Las Muertas de la West Mesa (The West Mesa Murders, based on a real event), Sisters in Tea/ Hermanas en Té and Death by Smartphone/ Muerte por Smartphone were published in serialized format by Taos News.
In her native Spanish she has authored the novels Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain), El difunto Fidel (The late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, that won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009), Posesas de La Habana (Haunted ladies of Havana, PurePlay Press, 2004), La Regenta en La Habana (Edebe Group, Spain, 2012), Orfeo en el Caribe (Atmósfera Literaria, Spain, 2013), and El retorno de la expatriada (The Expat’s Return, Egales, Spain, 2014).
Social Media Links
Blog in English: https://teredovalpage.com/
Blog in Spanish: https://teresadovalpage.com/