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?
What I Thought:
In preparing for this review, I took a look at the book on Goodreads, and various other places and was quite shocked with what I found. It seems that Death Comes in Through the Kitchen is a Marmite book – people either loved it or hated it.
I for one thought it was a really interesting book and particularly liked the format. At once it was an exotic murder mystery novel, and also an introduction to authentic Cuban cuisine. As a Cuban transplant, now living in the US, I felt that Teresa Dovalpage was uniquely placed to give both a view of the Cuba that she remembers – not that of the tourist trail – but also the view of outsiders to what seems a very alien regime.
Some of the reviews I read criticised the lead character, Matt, as being a bit stupid to assume he would arrive in Cuba and marry Yarmila but I felt that a certain naivety was needed in his character, alongside the brash American assumption that everything will immediately go his way – certainly not the case here.
The murder mystery plot was inventive and eventually resolved in an unexpected way, after leading us down paths that make us ask how well we ever really know anyone and immersing Matt fully in both the spiritual life of Cuba, and the restrictions placed on its citizens under a communist regime. By the time Matt contemplates leaving Cuba, his eyes – and ours – have been opened to some of the freedoms we take for granted.
Cuba and the people Matt meets are written vividly and, while you can imagine life is not always sunny for the characters, it is easy to picture the beauty of the Caribbean and the vibrancy of the sounds and smells of Cuba. This is helped in no small way by the recipes included in the book – a big part of the plot involves Yarmila running an English-language cooking blog and some of the recipes and the anecdotes in her blog posts are evocative and definitely worth trying to make.
Death Comes in Through the Kitchen is published by Soho Press and is currently available in hardback, with the paperback following next year. To find out more about the book, and Teresa Dovalpage, you can check out her blog, or you can connect with her on Twitter.
This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate Death Comes in Through the Kitchen and for more exclusive content and reviews, why not check out some of the fantastic blogs below?