Raquel V. Reyes

Books: Mystery

A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery: Mango, Mambo, and Murder (2021), Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking (2022), Barbacoa, Bomba, and Betrayal (2023)

A Caribbean Kitchen Mystery

Mango, Mambo, and Murder (2021)

Mango Mambo and MurderMiriam Quiñones-Smith has finished her PhD in food anthropology, but instead of becoming an author or education, she has moved back to Miami, where her husband was able to find a better paying job closer to support from his family.

"I’m a food anthropologist."

"You dig up old food?" Ileana asked.

"No, I … I …" I’d never had it put that way before.

Unfortunately, some of that family is Robert’s not-so-subtly racist mother, who won’t even call her godson by his given name.

The mother-in-law is a piece of work, and you want to punch her in the throat the entire book. Luckily, some people notice how terrible she is.

I’m not happy with the way Aunt Marjory treated you tonight. She should have set a place for you at the table. She has more chairs.

She is truly awful. And I am positive there are plenty of existing humans out there exactly like her.

When she gets a part-time job offer she thinks things might be better until she witnesses a young woman die at a luncheon. And then another woman die at at a seminar. And then her best friend is accused of murder.

Although this is a murder mystery, it is also about Miriam finding her place in the world, both as a mother and daughter, and a woman whose life plans were upended and she has to decide who she wants to become.

Also, there is a TON of cooking, and there are recipes in the back! I do wish we had a greater variety of restaurants in this area, because I now want to try Cuban food.

It was a good story and had a huge variety of characters and I would like to read another like this.

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

December 2021 | Rating: 8/10

Calypso, Corpses, and Cooking (2022)

I read Mango, Mambo, and Murder and Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo very close together, and have spent the past year confusing the two, because cozy mystery with food and a female lead are what I remembered.

To be clear, I liked Mia P. Manansala’s mysteries, but the love triangle is never going to be something I like.

Whereas Miriam Quiñones-Smith is married, and I love a series with a married couple working their lives out. So I was utterly delighted to see Raquel V. Reyes’s second book was finally coming out, and not only immediately bought it, I read it immediately.

The cassava I’d peeled and left to soak in the large cast aluminum pot was on the eye. "Oh. No, that’s not on. It’s just soaking." I dumped the milky water into the sink and refilled it. I loved the root vegetable, but it took planning to prepare. It required a day— two was better— to leach the toxins from the tubers to make it safe to eat.

I’d recently finished A Is for Arsenic so poisons were on my mind and I was delighted to come across something I knew.

Miriam’s passive-aggressive-aggressive mother in law continues to meddle and be awful, but Miriam and Roberto are doing better, as he sees how terribly his mother treats Miriam and is trying to protect her more.

Plus, he’s sweet.

He held my purse in his lap, knowing I, like most Cuban women, had a superstition about putting my purse on the floor. Setting it on the floor was a sign of disrespect to your money. It would walk away, and you’d be poor.

I’ve never understood putting your purse on the floor, because the floor is DIRTY.

Plus, I love her background.

This series is about an archaeologist like you," she said, holding a book by Elly Griffiths book.

"Oh, I’m an anthropologist, not an archaeologist. I dig culture, not dirt." I smiled.

Geeking out about culture is such a wonderful thing it makes me happy.

The Celtic pagan tradition of feeding the dead was not unlike the Mexican Dia de los Muertos practice of taking your relative’s favorite meal to their grave site. The Japanese did something similar during the Buddhist Obon festival.

I mean, I ADORE that!

Another thing I liked is that her son actually acts the age he is given.

"What was the drone— I mean, toy helicopter— doing?" Frank raised his eyebrows.

"Flying." Manny took a sip of juice and looked at the detective like he was an idiot.

And THIS bit made me adore her even more.

We went to talk to Marie’s daughter. I doubled my kid-watching offer. And Marie cut her eyes at me and hissed, "Too much. You will spoil her."

"No. She needs to know that caregiving is a valuable service and is not free," I said.

And the food! I am terrible at eating new things and have a lot of things I don’t "like". The stories like this, with amazing descriptions of food let me enjoy things I would love to be able to eat, but not might be able to do so in real life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and can’t wait for the next book.

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

October 2022 | Rating: 8.5/10

Barbacoa, Bomba, and Betrayal (2023)

Barbacoa, Bomba, and BetrayalWhat did I like about this story?

"No te olvides de tus uvas," Mami warned me. It was a tradition practiced in many Latinx and Hispanic homes. You had to eat twelve grapes for good luck before the clock struck to signal the new year.

I really liked how much Spanish and Spanglish was used in the story.

No, I can’t speak or read Spanish, but I can guesstimate words from their similarity to French, and also from context.

"No te olvides de tus uvas," Mami warned me. It was a tradition practiced in many Latinx and Hispanic homes. You had to eat twelve grapes for good luck before the clock struck to signal the new year.

And, since I read it on a kindle, a simple highlight and swipe gave me a translation. So I got to confirm my guesses, which I really enjoyed.

I also loved the cultural (and anthropological) bits.

my Cuban family stayed up on Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, cooked a whole pig, had a delicious meal, danced and sang, played games, and opened presents. Then twelve days later, the Three Kings came to give the kids more gifts.

And I very much appreciated the Latinx view of the politics of the DR.

(T)he fiscal oversight board had enacted legislation that allowed outside investors to avoid paying taxes on the premise that it would entice businesses to come to the island, which would, in theory, help the local economy. Outside investors were putting their money into projects, but the profits were not staying local. It was the same old colonial plunder and pillage song and dance but sung to a new tune.

"(I)t was a hex breaker cleanse from my aunt. My mother thinks it will rid me of my bad luck," I said.

Marie, who’d been listening, agreed. "That stuff works." She nodded and splashed some water on her shoulders. "Vodou is like a Wi-Fi connection to your ancestors."

The problem was the mystery.

I admit I was having a great deal of trouble concentrating, so it’s possible I missed things, but the mystery felt unresoved. Was the ending supposed to be that way? Or was this to be continued in another book (which we know I hate)?

I just felt lost and like I was missing something (or a lot of things).

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

November 2023 | Rating: 6/10