Thursday, 12 March 2020

Book Blog Tour Stop with Guest Post: Queen of Bones by Teresa Dovalpage

An image is worth…
I have said before that my mystery novels (and maybe all my books) can be considered Cuba travelogues. All the settings are places that I know very well, located in Havana, a city where I spent the first thirty years of my life. I have seen hundreds of movies at the Yara Movie Theater, met friends at El Quijote Park, watched the sun go down sitting on the Malecón seawall and visited the Cristobal Colon cemetery, where many of my ancestors are buried.
Here are some pictures I took during my last visit to Havana in the summer of 2019. Key scenes from Queen of Bones happen in all these places and I wanted to share with my readers.
An image, after all, is worth a thousand words…
The Yara Movie Theater
Close to Coppelia was the Yara Movie Theater, at the corner of L and Twenty-Third Street. It had been the most popular meeting place in El Vedado. Juan and his friends would usually agree to meet one another “in the Yara,” since it was easier to locate someone there than at the always-crowded ice-cream parlor. He wandered around outside the theater, feeling lost and somewhat out of place among the women in tight outfits and high heels and the guys yelling to one another over the noise of car engines, motorcycle revving, loud salsa music and street vendors hawking everything from shampoo to shoes. That was new too. No public bartering had been allowed in Cuba during the nineties. Things were changing, no doubt.
El Quijote Park
They passed by El Quijote Park, where the two-ton wire sculpture of the man of La Mancha stood. The piece, created by Sergio Martínez, had been a point of reference for Habaneros since 1980.
Nice park,” Juan said. “I had almost forgotten it.”
Now people call it Parque del Suicida,” Victoria said. “A young man shot himself in the head here three years ago. He left a note saying it was because of a love affair gone wrong. Very romantic.”
Juan shuddered. “I don’t think it’s romantic. Poor guy.”
It happens all the time.” Victoria’s laser-like eyes flashed under the hat. “Women set themselves aflame; men jump off bridges or shoot themselves—when they can find a gun, which isn’t easy here. The case was strange because the police never found the weapon. People think that whoever discovered the body first took it and went away without a word. The story I heard was that he put the gun inside his mouth and pulled the trigger.”
Sunset in Havana
Time passed slowly as Sharon waited in the hotel room. The blue waters turned a deep indigo under the watchful eye of the Morro Castle lighthouse, and the sun, now red, sank beneath the horizon. Sharon had a brief glimpse of a lime-colored flash that could very well have been the green ray. A pity Juan wasn’t there to see it.
The Havana Cemetery
The unpretentious Lasalle mausoleum was tucked on a side street, away from the main avenues. A cement vase on top contained three withered red roses. OSCAR CHIONG and 1947–1999 had been engraved next to it. Below were the names of Juan’s mother and other relatives, almost weathered off the tombstone.
Are they all buried here?” Juan asked, perplexed. Unless the grave was very deep, he couldn’t fathom how they had managed to get more than four bodies in.
Not anymore,” Rosita said. “All the Lasalle folks have already been moved out.”
Mom too?”
Juan blinked. “You mean she isn’t buried next to Dad? Why? Where is she?”
When the body decomposes, only the skull and some of the bigger bones remain. We put them in an ossuary after five years. This makes it possible to bury other people in these spots, since space is limited.”
Rosita spoke mechanically, sounding bored. She must have repeated these lines often. He thought of asking whether Catalina and Juan Pedro had been separated and their vacant spots given to others, but decided it was none of his business.
There’s still room in your mausoleum,” Rosita added cheerily. “We can place up to three more bodies here.”
Queen of Bones by Teresa Dovalpage

Juan, a Cuban construction worker who has settled in Albuquerque, returns to Havana for the first time since fleeing Cuba by raft twenty years ago. He is traveling with his American wife, Sharon, and hopes to reconnect with Victor, his best friend from college—and, unbeknownst to Sharon, he also hopes to discover what has become of two ex-girlfriends, Elsa and Rosita.
Juan is surprised to learn that Victor has become Victoria and runs a popular drag show at the local hot spot Café Arabia. Elsa has married a wealthy foreigner, and Rosita, still single, works at the Havana cemetery. When one of these women turns up dead, it will cost Padrino, a Santería priest and former detective on the Havana police force, more than he expects to untangle the group’s lies and hunt down the killer.

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Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana and now lives in Hobbs, where she is a Spanish and ESL professor at New Mexico Junior College. She has published ten novels and three collections of short stories.
Her first culinary mystery Death Comes in through the Kitchen (Soho Crime, 2018) is set in Havana and features Padrino, a santero-detective. It is loaded with authentic Cuban recipes like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and caldosa (a yummy stew). Her second mystery, Queen of Bones, was also published by Soho Crime in November 2019 and includes elements of Santería and, again, food—clearly, the author loves to eat! Both novels are rich in details about life in the island, the kind only an insider can provide.
They are the first two books of Soho Crime’s Havana Mystery series. Upcoming are Death of a Telenovela Star (June 2020) and Death under the Perseids.
She also wrote A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010).
In her native Spanish she has authored six novels, among them Muerte de un murciano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain) and El difunto Fidel (The Late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, which won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009).
Once in a while she delves into theater. Her plays La Hija de La Llorona and Hasta que el mortgage nos separe (published in Teatro Latino, 2019) has been staged by Aguijón Theater in Chicago.