Ellen here and I’m so happy to welcome Raquel V. Reyes, whose debut mystery, Mango, Mambo, and Murder is garnering a lot of buzz!
What in the world is a food anthropologist?
Miriam Quiñones-Smith is the main character in the new Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series. As one might guess by the series’ title, it is a culinary cozy. But despite being the host of a Spanish-language cooking show, Miriam is not a trained chef. She is a food anthropologist. She studies the intersection of food and culture. She’s an academic. Actually, at the start of Mango, Mambo, and Murder, the ink is barely dry on her Ph.D.
Why did I choose that particular career for my protagonist? Blame the shelf of Elizabeth Peters’ books at my library. Her novels were my gateway reads into the mystery genre. The teen me enjoyed the murder puzzles, but more than anything, I loved the settings and smart heroines—Amelia Peabody, Egyptologist, Jacqueline Kirby, librarian, and Vicky Bliss, professor of art history.
When it came time for me to create my own smart heroine, I knew she had to follow in that bookish-woman mold but with a twist—her stories would not be Eurocentric. I wanted to shift the focus to my backyard, to the Caribbean. I wanted to be able to talk about the foods I grew up with and how the African Diaspora shaped the Caribbean culture and foodways. Think High on the Hog but about the Caribbean islands.
Miriam Quiñones-Smith would be an expert in the how and why certain foods were and are eaten in the Caribbean. And being that she is a Latina (specifically Cuban-American) it was important that she be aspirational. She had to have an advanced degree. Black and Latinx people are underrepresented in academia. (Read about this beloved Harvard professor denied tenure. )
The series is cultural, but foremost it is culinary! There are recipes and plenty of cooking scenes. I love that I have a legitimate excuse to research the origins of certain foods (like okra and cassava) and try out recipes like pikliz, a Haitian relish made with Scotch Bonnets, carrots, and cabbage. Sadly, my pikliz is not as good as the one at the Haitian restaurant down the street from me. But my Puerto Rican-style ensalada de pulpo (octopus salad) is top-notch.
If you enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations series, watch The Food Network, delight in learning new words, and long for an island breeze, you will like the Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series. I hope you make space on your shelf for Mango, Mambo, and Murder when it debuts 10/12/21.
Readers, What Caribbean cuisines have you tried? Or would you like to try? Do you have a favorite dish? What is it?
Raquel V. Reyes writes stories with Latina characters. Her Cuban-American heritage, Miami, and the Caribbean feature prominently in her work. Raquel is a co-chair for SleuthFest. Her short stories appear in various anthologies including Mystery Most Theatrical and Midnight Hour. You can find her across social media platforms as @LatinaSleuths or click here for Raquel’s links. Use this direct link to join her newsletter.
This Book Riot piece has an excellent description of the book: https://bookriot.com/diverse-cozy-mysteries/