Black Beans and Venom: A Carol Sabala Mystery by Vinnie Hansen takes us to the exotic island of Cuba, out of bounds for U.S. tourists, but private detective Carol Sabala wasn’t about to let something as minor as a technical illegality get in the way of a lucrative case, which she was well aware her agency badly needed. Wealthy socialite, Lucille has retained Carol’s agency to find her estranged daughter, Megan, who dying of cancer and ravaged by chemotherapy and radiation, had apparently turned to exotic and unknown possible treatments, only obtainable on the island of Cuba and involving the use of scorpion venom, endemic to the native Cuban scorpion. Megan’s worries, however, are not just her metastasizing cancer, she is also on the run from her psychopathic ex-boyfriend who she is both terrified of and still deeply attracted to. When Carol arrives in Cuba she is shocked by the backwardness of the country and must fight both her lack of language and the local’s indifference to her quest. This book is a standalone read, despite it clearly being part of a series relating to the main character, Carol Sabala.
I found Black Beans and Venom to be a fairly straightforward, sleuthing novel, with only the exotic location of Cuba lifting it above the genre in which it stands. The main characteristic that makes Black Beans and Venom: A Carol Sabala Mystery stand out from its competition is the feisty, lead, character in Carol Sabala. The idea of a female private detective, in what is essentially a man’s world, is not a new one for novelists but, for me, it did lend the narrative a distinctive freshness that it may otherwise have been lacking. Author Vinnie Hansen does weave the legend of Ernest Hemingway and his life in Cuba, into the story well, which was a plus for me, as a reader. A few neat little twists and turns in the story does add well to the overall plot of the novel. The sheer evilness and psychopathy of Megan’s ex-boyfriend Eric was a highlight for me but I felt there was more room for backstory of Eric and what made him tick. He was the star, for me, of the story and that possibly wasn’t the author’s original intention. That being said, this is a very readable and relatively gentle sleuthing mystery, that fans of the genre can well enjoy.