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 am delighted to welcome Teresa Dovalpage to booksaremycwtches with an extract from her new novel Death Comes in Through The Kitchen.
Chapter one: Meringue puffs
The Cuban Customs officer lifted an eyebrow at the bridal gown—a white satin bodice with tulle appliqués, sheer sleeves, and a two-foot train—and took a long, suspicious look at the couple. The woman was a tall blonde in her forties who wore a teal broom skirt, a beige cotton blouse, turquoise-studded cowgirl boots, and a brittle smile. The man, in jeans and a San Diego Padres t-shirt, was a few years younger and a few inches shorter. His hands shook when he opened his passport on the picture page.
“Are you getting married here?” the officer asked.
The woman’s pale cheeks tinted with a soft blush.
“Yes,” she said, smiling at the wedding dress that was carefully wrapped in a plastic bag.
. “To him?” the officer pointed to her companion with a hint of mistrust in his voice. That was unusual, two Americans coming all the way to Havana to get hitched. But both hurried to correct him, almost at the same time:
“We are just friends.”
“I am the one getting married,” the woman explained. “To a Cuban.”
The Customs officer reconsidered his initial decision to send the couple over to Security. He waved the woman away after taking a cursory look at her passport, which he didn’t stamp.
“Welcome to Cuba, Anne.”
She walked away with her face still flushed. The man, whose passport read Matthew Sullivan, waited nervously while the compañero inspected his backpack. The unopened Hugo Boss gift set that contained a watch, a pair of sunglasses, and three red monogrammed boxer shorts made the officer snicker.
“Are they yours?”
When he was finally told to go ahead, Matt let go a sigh of relief and hurried to meet Anne in the waiting room. In a corner, after looking around like conspirators, they exchanged items quickly: Matt cradled the wedding dress in his arms and Anne took the Hugo Boss set.
“Well, that was easy enough,” she said.
Matt didn’t understand the need to lie, but Anne had insisted, saying that they would have to offer detailed explanations for gender-swapped gifts. He had deferred to her; having traveled to the island seven times, she was the expert on Cuban affairs.
“Why didn’t that guy stamp our passports?” Matt asked. “I thought we would have to ask him not to do it.”
“I guess it’s a courtesy to ‘good Americans’ like us, who come here despite the embargo,” Anne answered, shrugging. “For whatever reason, I’ve never had mine stamped. And I am not asking why.”
They picked up their luggage (one big, heavy suitcase for him and two medium-sized ones for her) and went outside the building, to the airport parking lot where a small crowd of nationals had been waiting for the arrival of the Aeroméxico plane.
A young, wiry man stepped out of the group. Anne ran to hug him.
“Yony, my love!”
There was a loud smooching sound. She handed him the Hugo Boss set.
Matt stood aside, searching the crowd for Yarmila, his Cuban fiancée, but he couldn’t find her. He walked back to the airport building, careful not to stumble over the gown’s train and ignoring the curious glances that followed him. A security guard stopped him at the door.
“Only people who are traveling today can come in,” he said.
“But I was just there!”
“So? You are out now.”
Matt turned around. The crowd had dispersed. Yony and Anne were still kissing, but Yarmila was nowhere to be found.
He made several unsuccessful attempts to call her apartment from a payphone. The phone rang without response. He asked the security guards if they had seen “a pretty young woman with brown eyes and dark hair.” They chuckled and told him they had seen dozens of them. An hour slipped by. By then Matt’s hands were shaking so much that the gown’s tulle appliqués fluttered like sick doves.
“I bet Yarmila just got tired of waiting,” Yony said. “She must be back home now.”
It made sense—sort of. The plane had been delayed during a stopover at Monterrey and arrived at two-fifteen instead of one o’clock. But Yarmila could have stayed a little longer, Matt thought. He would have waited for her an entire day if necessary.
“If Yarmi is home, why isn’t she answering my calls?” he asked, despondent.
“Her phone may be out of order,” Yony said. “This is Cuba. Things get broken all the time.”
“But . . .”
“Don’t sweat it, man,” Yony looked around, worried. “Sorry, but we have to go now. We’ve been here too long and I don’t want the cops coming and asking questions. I’ll drop you off at her place.”
Matt shook his head.
“We agreed to meet at the airport,” he said. “That was the plan. You guys can go ahead.”
“We aren’t leaving you alone!” Anne protested.
“I’ll find a taxi later.”
“Take it easy, Yuma.” Yony put a reassuring hand on Matt’s shoulder. “Remember: you are in Havana. Here, plans don’t always pan out.”
Yuma, Yarmila had explained to Matt, was a term that younger Cubans used when referring to Americans. It didn’t have the pejorative connotation that Yankee had, like in “Yankees, go home.” It was almost affectionate, though it sounded odd to him.
Matt gave up and followed the couple, rolling the big suitcase on the uneven curb and holding the bridal gown protectively against his chest.
About the author
Teresa Dovalpage is a Cuban transplant now firmly rooted in New Mexico. She was born in Havana and now lives in Hobbs, where she is a Spanish and ESL professor at New Mexico Junior College.
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).