Friday, 13 March 2020

Queen of Bones by Teresa Dovalpage

Queen of Bones by Teresa Dovalpage
Published by Soho Crime on the 12th November 2019.

Q for my 2020 Alphabet Soup challenge and one of my More Than One challenge reads

Set between Cubas twenty years apart, Havana native Teresa Dovalpage’s new murder mystery explores lingering grudges between old friends and lovers separated by Castro's final sanctioned raft exodus.

Juan, a Cuban construction worker who has settled in Albuquerque, returns to Havana for the first time since fleeing Cuba by raft twenty years ago. He is traveling with his American wife, Sharon, and hopes to reconnect with Victor, his best friend from college—and, unbeknownst to Sharon, he also hopes to discover what has become of two ex-girlfriends, Elsa and Rosita.

Juan is surprised to learn that Victor has become Victoria and runs a popular drag show at the local hot spot Café Arabia. Elsa has married a wealthy foreigner, and Rosita, still single, works at the Havana cemetery. When one of these women turns up dead, it will cost Padrino, a Santería priest and former detective on the Havana police force, more than he expects to untangle the group’s lies and hunt down the killer.

I loved returning to Cuba for Queen Of Bones, Teresa Dovalpage's second Havana Mystery. We again have the main protagonist, who finds himself caught up in a murder investigation, being a visitor to the enigmatic island, but this time that man is former refugee, Juan, who fled Cuba twenty years previously on a homemade raft. His bewilderment at the recent changes within Cuban society and culture allowed me, as a reader, to get a good understanding of the phenomenon myself. I imagine it must be just as difficult for lifelong Cubans to cope with rapid commercialisation and shifting attitudes as it was for Juan. Transgender woman Victoria embodies the new open society as she embraces the personal identity which was forbidden to her two decades previously. In contrast, Dovalpage also focuses on the traditional Santeria religion with its blend of African deities and Catholic saints. I appreciated these insights into the faith as this helped to understand several characters' motivations.

The murder mystery aspect of Queen Of Bones is nicely plotted and I did manage to work out the murderer by about the halfway point. The whys and wherefores eluded me for considerably longer though and I found myself taken in by red herrings along the way. Thank goodness that Santeria priest Padrino isn't so gullible! Padrino's dual profession gives him access to most places and when it doesn't, he's not adverse to simply letting himself in! My only irritation with Queen Of Bones was the character of Juan's wife, Sharon, who was such a sulky wet blanket that I couldn't recognise what I was being told about her from the way she actually behaved. The dichotomy was quite distracting and I wished Juan had followed his initial inclination to leave her back in America for the duration of his visit! Sharon aside though, Queen Of Bones is a vibrant and culturally interesting story which I enjoyed reading just as much as its predecessor.

Meet the author   

Photo credit: Delio Regueral 
Teresa Dovalpage 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 ten novels and three collections of short stories.
Her first culinary mystery Death Comes in through the Kitchen (Soho Crime, 2018) is set in Havana and features Padrino, a santero-detective. It is loaded with authentic Cuban recipes like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and caldosa (a yummy stew). Her second mystery, Queen of Bones, was also published by Soho Crime in November 2019 and includes elements of Santería and, again, food—clearly, the author loves to eat! Both novels are rich in details about life in the island, the kind only an insider can provide.

They are the first two books of Soho Crime’s Havana Mystery series. Upcoming are Death of a Telenovela Star (June 2020) and Death under the Perseids.
She also wrote A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010).

In her native Spanish she has authored six novels, among them Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain) and El difunto Fidel (The Late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, which won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009).

Once in a while she delves into theater. Her plays La Hija de La Llorona and Hasta que el mortgage nos separe (published in Teatro Latino, 2019) has been staged by Aguijón Theater in Chicago.

Author links: 
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  1. It sounds like Sharon would be a real pain to read about! That kind of character really annoys me!

    1. Fortunately she's not in too many of the scenes!

  2. I love the covers on the colour of this one, and that we get some trans rep in the book as well! While you may have been able to figure out whodunnit, I am glad that there was still some mystery as to the how and whys, so you could enjoy the reading experience all the way until the end ^.^

    1. Dovalpage really makes Havana feel real so I can imagine actually being there which I love - except when someone's getting murdered anyway!