Like all corners of the crime fiction community, the cozy mystery sub-genre has recently seen an influx of new, diverse voices creating a sense of vitality and freshness that will hopefully bring more readers to the entire breadth of this incredibly multi-faceted style of writing, which is too-often maligned by those with little experience reading these popular novels. One of those new books making a deserved splash is Mango, Mambo, and Murder by Raquel V. Reyes.
Mango, Mambo, and Murder features Miriam Quinones-Smith, a Cuban-American food anthropologist who has recently relocated to Coral Shores, Miami with her husband and toddler son. (Never mind the fact that the husband sometimes acts like a child himself.) The move may not be ideal for Miriam and her career – complicated by the fact that they are now closer to her mother-in-law (from hell) – but at least Miriam’s best friend Alma is nearby for the needed support. Finding ways to ply her trade in this new location is challenging, but eventually Miriam takes on the role of “cooking expert” for a local morning show.
Raquel V. Reyes spends some time allowing readers to get to know the core group of characters and even includes some briefer interactions with acquaintances who will likely become more prominent as the series progresses. Cozy mysteries really are strengthened by the reader’s connection to the characters, so this time investment pays off by allowing them to bond with Miriam before the mystery kicks in.
An unexplained death at an invitation-only luncheon is mysterious enough, but a second death certainly sends off alarm bells. When her best friend, Alma, becomes the prime suspect, this is the final impetus for Miriam to start an amateur investigation into the crimes. Due to her ability to blend in, the official detective on the case eventually enlists Miriam’s help. Weaving some lighter moments with the more serious elements of the core mystery allows for reading Mango, Mambo, and Murder to remain fun even when it explore heftier topics.
Reminiscent of how Mia P. Manasala handled the topic in her debut, Arsenic and Adobo, Raquel V. Reyes uses food as the universal language. Her descriptions of traditional dishes will have readers salivating and the inclusion of some recipes at the end, make it that much easier to eat your way through this cozy novel.
Speaking of language, it may seem like a small thing, but Raquel V. Reyes is to be commended for having the bravery to allow the native language of her characters to shine. This does mean that some interactions are presented without translation, so readers unfamiliar with Spanish must use context clues to determine what is being said. However, this only adds to the authenticity of the work, especially given the Miami setting and helps to reinforce the fact that the United States is indeed a multi-lingual nation.
Mango, Mambo, and Murder is the first in the Caribbean Kitchen mystery series, leaving readers anxious for a return visit with Miriam and the gang.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.