BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Queen of Bones by Teresa Dovalpage [in Shelf Awareness]

The retired-detective-turned-Santería-priest Padrino gets a second chance to play savior in Teresa Dovalpage’s continuing Havana Mystery series. She mines familiar territory from book one, Death Comes in Through the Kitchen (2018), using another bathroom murder to intertwine the lives of U.S. visitors with Cuban locals.

Two decades earlier, Juan escaped the island of his birth by raft, barely surviving the journey to Miami, Fla. He’s now a former waiter and salsa dance teacher in Albuquerque, N.Mex., who, seven years ago, married his boss, Sharon, a local real estate agent who employed him to do “whatever” for her company. He’s certainly enjoying “all the good things in life,” yet his “Cuban tragedy” looms and he’s finally about to make his first visit back to “deal with too much baggage” he’s left behind.

Just days before Juan’s departure, Sharon overhears a phone conversation she shouldn’t have, discovers a mysterious photo on Juan’s computer, and – surprise! – books herself on his same itinerary. Ten years his senior, Sharon “sometimes had the nagging suspicion that Juan wasn’t all that into her,” although his assurance during the flight, “You did the right thing,” calms her enough. But once in Havana, Juan reveals plans that don’t include her, understandably making her more anxious.

When Sharon secretly follows him to his first reunion, she watches as Juan meets a buxom, platinum-blonde stranger. What Sharon can’t know, and Juan is shocked to learn, is that “goofy, skinny Victor,” Juan’s best friend since third grade, has transformed into glamorous nightclub superstar Victoria Sunrise. For the next hour over Cafe Cubita, Victoria becomes Juan’s ideal news source, reporting on relatives, friends, lovers. Most intriguing to Juan is the fate of his two former girlfriends: Elsa, his greatest love, who is now a high-power international businesswoman with a much-older Spanish husband and a college student son; and Rosita, his most regretful dalliance, who survived a breakdown and is now a makeup artist working at the city cemetery.

When Victoria later invites Juan back for lunch with Elsa, Juan can’t refuse. But when he arrives, Victoria has already been found dead in the bathroom by her fiancé, Lázaro. Murder requires the reappearance of santero Padrino as the “on-the-side … private eye” to figure out what the police are clearly missing. Secrets are revealed, betrayals are avenged, body counts rise, and the dead are finally laid to rest.

With more than a dozen titles published in both Spanish and English, Cuban-born New Mexico resident Dovalpage adeptly draws on her heritage, intertwining her native country’s tumultuous history with the contemporary experiences of the Cuban diaspora. While the collision of past and present produces fatal results, the ensuing labyrinthine journey provides readers with plenty of compelling diversions along the way.

Shelf Talker: A Cuban refugee returns to Havana to confront unfinished relationships from two decades past, but reconnecting with friends and lovers yields tragic consequences.

Review: Shelf Awareness Pro, October 22, 2019

Readers: Adult

Published: 2019


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