I’m delighted to welcome back Raquel V. Reyes! Mango, Mambo, and Murder comes out on October 12th — next Tuesday so preorder it now! And I love this post. Since I was lucky enough to read an ARC of Mango, Mambo, and Murder I was so curious about Raquel’s protagonist. I know you will find her explanation as fascinating as I did.
Your main character is a what? A Food Anthropologist.
By Raquel V. Reyes
Hi, it’s me, Raquel V. Reyes, debut author. Sherry Harris has asked me to elaborate on Mango, Mambo, and Murder’s main character’s field of study because many readers might not have heard of the profession.
Dr. Miriam Quiñones is an anthropologist who concentrates on the gastronomic history of humans. This is how Wikipedia defines it: “Anthropology of food is a sub-discipline of anthropology that connects an ethnographic and historical perspective with contemporary social issues in food production and consumption systems.” I like to describe what Miriam does as the intersection of food, history, and culture.
Have you ever wondered why your family eats a particular food like lutefisk/Norwegian fermented whitefish or fu ru /Chinese fermented tofu? Or when someone figured out cooking a potato made it nutritious instead of dangerous? FYI raw potatoes cause nausea because of the toxin solanine. Did you know potatoes originated in the Andes and that there are over five thousand varieties? Miriam Quiñones wonders about all of that and more. Her area of study is the Caribbean, with a special focus on the African influences of the cuisine.
Many staples of Caribbean foodways came to the islands with or because of enslaved Africans. The plantation owners needed cheap sustenance for their enslaved workers. Those foods were plantains, mangoes, okra, callaloo (a leafy green similar to spinach), pigeon peas, and salt fish, to name a few. Before the colonist decimated the indigenous Tainos (either by diseases or swords), cultural knowledge of cooking techniques was shared. Barbacoa, from which we get the American word barbecue, was the Taino name for a raised grate on which to cook and smoke meats.
Miriam and her creator love this type of stuff. I can spend hours watching culinary documentaries like Stephan Satterfield’s High on the Hog, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat. So, when it came to character development for the series, I knew my main character had to have interests that I would enjoy researching. The series is set in Miami because it is the gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America. I am lucky to live in such a diverse city where I can eat the cuisines I write about. Just last night, I had Haitian fried fish, and my husband had Jamaican jerk chicken. Our grocery store has fresh and local callaloo. Guava, mango, avocado, plantains, and a host of other tropical fruits and veggies grow here with little effort. Be friendly to your neighbors, and your pot will always be full. I rarely buy mangoes because friends will leave them as gifts on my doorstep when they are in season.
I hope this has whet your appetite for Caribbean food and Mango, Mambo, and Murder. What is your favorite Caribbean dish? Have you visited the islands or Miami? What foods did you try?
Bio: 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, Midnight Hour, and Trouble No More. Mango, Mambo, and Murder is the first in the Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series. Find her across social media platforms as @LatinaSleuths.
Here’s more about the book:
Cuban-American cooking show star Miriam Quiñones-Smith becomes a seasoned sleuth in Raquel V. Reyes’s Caribbean Kitchen Mystery debut, a savory treat for fans of Joanne Fluke and Jenn McKinlay.
Food anthropologist Miriam Quiñones-Smith’s move from New York to Coral Shores, Miami, puts her academic career on hold to stay at home with her young son. Adding to her funk is an opinionated mother-in-law and a husband rekindling a friendship with his ex. Gracias to her best friend, Alma, she gets a short-term job as a Caribbean cooking expert on a Spanish-language morning TV show. But when the newly minted star attends a Women’s Club luncheon, a socialite sitting at her table suddenly falls face-first into the chicken salad, never to nibble again.
When a second woman dies soon after, suspicions coalesce around a controversial Cuban herbalist, Dr. Fuentes–especially after the morning show’s host collapses while interviewing him. Detective Pullman is not happy to find Miriam at every turn. After he catches her breaking into the doctor’s apothecary, he enlists her help as eyes and ears to the places he can’t access, namely the Spanish-speaking community and the tawny Coral Shores social scene.
As the ingredients to the deadly scheme begin blending together, Miriam is on the verge of learning how and why the women died. But her snooping may turn out to be a recipe for her own murder.