Revenge of the jilted lover
by Amy Boaz
Originally published in Tempo
“La Macarena effect” — named after the hit song by Los Del Río — is described by the Cuban characters here as “whenever our friends left their partners for guys who had more money or status (ones who often happened to be foreigners).”
Merceditas Spivey is a star-crossed young woman who has left a trail of broken hearts back in her native Havana in order to marry an older American literature professor. Consequently, she might think twice about accepting free tickets on a cruise ship from Miami to Havana whose purpose is precisely to catch the rare and spectacular Perseid meteor shower.
The Perseid meteor shower is known in Spanish as Las Lágrimas de Lorenzo — which happens to be the name of the love of her life back in Havana, gone forever.
“You’re going to live la vida loca for a few days,” Merceditas’ best friend and colleague at the pet salon Pretty and Pampered in Gainesville, Florida, urges her on excitedly. “It’ll do you good!”
Indeed, Merceditas hopes to revive her flagging nine-year marriage to the distracted Nolan Spivey, and jumps at the chance for a free cruise. She will be able to visit her adored grandmother Mamina, who raised her, while Nolan, recently dismissed from his job and casting about for another position, can make some professional connections.
They say that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Readers of author and translator Dovalpage will recall her previous mystery, “Death of a Telenovela Star,” also took place aboard a cruise ship, a perfect Agatha Christiesque crucible of suspicion and subversive motivation. In this case, why do all the usual suspects in Merceditas’ past life with ex-boyfriend Lorenzo seem to be onboard this maiden cruise to Cuba?
Lorenzo Alvear had been her dreamy professor of contemporary Cuban literature at the University of Havana. He soon fell for the curvy student who used her mañas y marañas to bedazzle him. Lorenzo was also a novelist, and his literary opus, “Las Perseidas,” was denounced by a jealous colleague as being counterrevolutionary. Lorenzo was imprisoned and faced a sad, untimely demise.
Moreover, another jealous colleague actually stole the book and published it in Spain under his own name.
While the plotting in this floating murder mystery is a little heavy-handed, as Merceditas keeps bumping into Lorenzo’s nemeses one after the other on deck, Dovalpage excels in her portrayal of old Havana. She captures Merceditas’ nostalgia for her native city wistfully: Cathedral Square encircled by the vintage American cars, the almendróns, serving as taxis for the tourists with dollars, and the stately neighborhood where Mamina lives, Miramar, its once grand buildings now fallen into disrepair. The poverty of the locals is a troubling theme, yet what pervades overall is the fragrance of home-cooked spicy arroz con pollo.
Lo pasado, pisado — let bygones be bygones (“step on the past”) — everyone keeps saying, but the past won’t let Merceditas go.
Death under the Perseids se puede ordenar por adelantado (sale en diciembre) en Amazon.