Death Comes in through the Kitchen
Sometimes, you just need a good mystery.
On Friday night, I finished reading Death Comes in through the Kitchen by Teresa Dovalpage. Dovalpage was born in Havana in 1966 and earned her M.A. Spanish Literature through the University of Havana. She now lives in Santa Fe, NM.
I read about the book in the Durango Herald a few months back, and the topic intrigued me. Being a child of the 80s and 90s, I know little about Cuba, and I confess . . . I’m a sucker for mysteries.
The book is deemed a “A lively murder mystery with a Cuban culinary twist” by Cristina Garcia, and she is absolutely right.
The story is set in Havana in 2003. When Matthew Sullivan arrives in Cuba to visit his long-distance girlfriend, Yarmila Portal, he finds he finds her dead in her bathtub. (No spoiler alert needed – this happens within the first ten pages of the story.)
Although he is not a suspect, Matt quickly realizes that his fate lies in the hands of the Cuban police, especially since they confiscated his passport. He decides to hire a private detective to solve the case.
Throughout the story, we learn that Matt was attracted to Yarmila through her food blog, “Yarmi Cooks Cuban.” In this beautiful piece of work, she nostalgically describes Cuba through the eyes of a local food lover. Although this paints a heavenly image of the island, Dovalpage expertly weaves in a more realistic view.
We see that Cubans live on food rations and are required to buy food in government-sponsored stores. Because the prices are so high, most residents buy food illegally. It’s not uncommon for products to be out of stock for weeks or months at a time.
Through her eloquent descriptions, we gain insight into a country that is ravaged by food and supply shortages and a people who are becoming increasingly distrustful of the government. We also learn that the government has spies on every street corner who are ready to report their neighbors’ Yankee connections at any moment. We see a nation torn by mistrust, illegal activity, and unmet needs.
As I read the story, I found myself viewing the United States with a renewed sense of gratitude. Our country is far from perfect, and I am often frustrated at our failures and shortcomings. However, I’ve never lived in a country that I couldn’t leave. I’ve never lived on government ration cards or been forced to buy groceries illegally. Frankly, I can’t even imagine that type of life.
All in all, this is a beautiful story. If you’ve ever been interested in Cuba (or if you just love mysteries), I highly recommend that you take some time to read it. It’s thoroughly enjoyable.
Note that this is not a literary critique. This is simply my reflection and thoughts after finishing the book. You are, as always, welcome to disagree with me.
Laura Christine Ritz is The Durango Wordsmith. As Durango’s premier content writer, editor, and writing coach, she can help you write words that attract customers and grow your business.