Review | Mango, Mambo, and Murder, by Raquel V Reyes

MangoMamboMurderThis mystery was just an absolute joy to read. It had all the markers of a fantastic start to a cozy mystery series: fantastic lead, compelling characters, and a twisty mystery with a personal connection. Miriam Quinones-Smith has just moved to her husband’s hometown of Coral Shores, Miami, where her best friend, Alma, also lives. When a socialite dies at a Women’s Club luncheon, a tox screen reveals she’d died of a drug overdose, and an anonymous tip fingers Alma as the pusher.

Miriam is determined to prove Alma’s innocence, and believes that a more likely suspect is Dr Fuentes, a Cuban herbalist who sells overpriced herbal mixtures that promise weight loss, fertility, and other such medical claims. All the socialites in town love his products, and the arrogant doctor is a hilariously entertaining character to read about. I enjoyed reading about the investigation, and the somewhat jokey friendship Miriam forms with the detective on the case. Detective Pullman did confuse me at times, since he seemed to alternate between asking Miriam for help, and asking her to stay out of the investigation, but overall, I thought they worked well together. The one big snag for me was the big reveal, which felt anti-climactic. Worse, the way it was handled seemed to render Miriam’s detective work redundant, which just emphasized the sense that she was meddling unnecessarily in the investigation.

That being said, the best part of the book for me was the entire world Reyes built around the mystery. I love Miriam and Alma, and I especially love how awesome their friendship is. I also love how casually bits of Spanish are sprinkled throughout the dialogue, and how colloquial it all sounds, for example, how they say “porfa” instead of “por favor.” The way the author incorporates Spanish reminds me of how my friends and I sometimes speak Taglish rather than just straight Tagalog or straight English, and how we sometimes shorten words or phrases in Tagalog while in casual conversation. So the bits of Spanish make the dialogue sound more natural and true-to-life for me, and I love that the author chose to do that.

I also love how the author explores the racism Miriam experiences in marrying into a white family. Miriam’s parents live in  Her mother-in-law Marjery is racist, but often through microaggressions where it’s sometimes hard to tell whether it’s worth pushing back or whether you should just let it go. So I love how the author depicts Miriam’s responses to Marjery’s microaggressions, and I especially love how this climaxes in one beautiful scene where Miriam finally pushes back. For context, Miriam has a doctorate in anthropology, with a particular interest in how food intersects with culture. In this scene, Marjery makes a snide comment about Miriam’s cooking, and after Miriam snaps back, she thinks,

I’d never pushed back at my mother-in-law. It felt liberating, and I wanted another round. My arsenal of ten-dollar words was at the ready. The socioeconomic legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean was in that pot of peasant stew, and I’d be more than happy to educate her on it. [89%]

Yes, yes, YES!!! As a Filipino, I rarely see my cuisine accorded the same gourmand respect as some Western cuisines, so Marjery’s snobbery around Miriam’s Caribbean dish totally hit me hard. I’ve also experienced how that type of cultural snobbery often goes hand-in-hand with intellectual snobbery, so Miriam’s eagerness to whip out her “arsenal of ten-dollar words” made me cheer out loud. I totally got where she was coming from, and I was more than ready for her to verbally rip her racist mother-in-law to shreds.

The subplot around Miriam’s job at the Spanish language station was also a lot of fun. I love the little touches that gave the station a community hub feel, such as the daycare where Miriam could leave her son Manny while she’s filming, and the way Miriam and the other staff never had to explain culture-specific content for non-Latinx viewers.

A weakness for me was in the subplot around Miriam’s husband getting a job with his beautiful ex-girlfriend, who still seemed interested in him, and who, of course, Marjery very much preferred. Miriam just seemed to jump to outrageous conclusions much too quickly, and more than once, I just wished she made more of an effort to talk to him before spiralling towards the worst case scenario.

Still, overall, this was a really fun book, and I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.

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Thank you to Crooked Lane Books for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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