Book Review: Lyn Di Iorio’s “Outside the Bones”

If Kinsey Millhone or Stephanie Plum were Puerto Rican brujas, they’d be just like Fina, the lead character of Lyn Di Iorio’s first novel Outside the Bones (Arte Publico Press).

Like those smartass, crime-solving creations of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, Fina uses her wits and attitude when she finds herself entangled in a murder mystery. But unlike many mysteries, Bones features mostly Hispanic characters and uses Afro-Carribean rituals as a mystery-solving device.

Fina is a New York City clerk who has a crush on her neighbor, musician Chico de León (another character with that great last name!). She puts a fufú, or curse, on him that goes badly – and leads to Fina to investigate Chico’s mysterious past in Puerto Rico, where his infant daughter and wife died while he was having an affair. Then his mistress and a woman claiming to be Chico’s daughter show up. So Fina enlists her “badass Godfather in the magic arts,” Tata Victor Tumba Fuego, to help conjure up spirits that may help solve the mystery. And then things start getting crazy.

The book gets its strength from Fina’s voice. If you don’t like attitude, bad grammar and foul language, you won’t like her. But then you would be deprived of such great lines as this, when Fina is taking a rooster to be sacrificed by Tata Victor: “Animal blood is the offering favored by the nkisis and nfuiris. And I understand the primitive principle behind it all. Blood is the most sacred form of energy, and when the spirits drink they become enlivened to help us in this world. But shit, we ain’t on the island no more, we don’t sacrifice in the mountains of Africa or Cuba; we do it in our apartments. Can’t we substitute and modernize a little with the other aspects of the religion? Streamline and make it more up to date?”

Even if you’re skeptical of the supernatural or the plot, Fina may make a believer out of you.

More about Lyn Di Iorio:

• Di Iorio talked to The Hispanic Reader about the inspiration for her book and how to encourage more people to get into Latino literature.

• Di Iorio will make several appearances for her book, including tonight at the Barnes and Noble at New York City’s Upper West Side.

• Di Iorio talked to the New York Daily News about Afro-Caribbean religions.

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Filed under 2011 Books, Fiction

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