A San Diego food writer finds himself in the soup when his would-be fiancee is found dead in her Havana apartment.
Matthew Sullivan, who writes food columns for El Grito de San Diego and Foodalicious, thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he discovers Yarmi Cooks Cuban, a blog by Yarmila Portal Richards, who works at La Caldosa, a private restaurant run by Isabel Quintana in the living room of her Havana apartment. El Grito’s Spanish-language readers love Yarmi’s unique take on Cuban cuisine, and Matthew is increasingly captivated by their private correspondence. After visiting Yarmi for a couple of weeks, Matthew is smitten. He buys a wedding dress in San Diego and goes back to Havana to propose. His second trip is a disaster. When he arrives at Yarmi’s apartment, she’s lying dead in her bathtub. Isabel offers Matt her penthouse, which turns out to be a dilapidated hellhole. “Agent Pedro” of the Seguridad, Cuba’s Department of State Security, confiscates his passport. Taty, a waiter at La Caldosa, makes a pass at him. As Matt’s life spirals increasingly out of control, Dovalpage’s narrative veers away from him to follow Padrino, a Santeria priest Matt recruits to help solve Yarmi’s murder; Pato Macho, Isabel’s volatile son; and failed revolutionary Ricardito Rendón. The parade of colorful characters helps Dovalpage paint a vivid portrait of late Castro-era Cuba but does little to solve Yarmi’s murder.
Dovalpage, author of novels and short stories in both Spanish and English (The Astral Plane: Stories of Cuba, The Southwest, and Beyond, 2012, etc.), offers lots of local color, but her rambling tale of love gone wrong is too unfocused to sustain interest in what’s essentially a shaggy dog story.