A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens

Raul Palma

Dutton 2023

Hugo Contreras calls it a misstep. When he finally paid off the $2,000 on his credit card, the interest had accrued nearly as much as his original debt. Then he maxed out his credit cards to pay for his wife’s medical bills. “It was impossible to imagine a future” because of his indebtedness, he laments.

Contreras is a trained babalawo (father of mysteries) even though he is a non-believer. His boss, Lourdes at the Miami Botanica & Spa, who is a spiritual priest, recognized something special about Contreras when she hired him. She advised him to listen carefully to customers seeking help; Contreras, using his tricks and psychology, was amazed how that worked.

One day, his nemesis, Cuban attorney Alexi Ramirez, a debt collector who had been hounding Contreras, visits the Botanica. He offers to delete Contreras’ debt if he removes evil spirts haunting his McMansion. Lourdes warns Contreras about the dangers of accepting Ramirez’s offer, but Contreras will do anything to clear his debt.

Soon after Contreras began cleansing Ramirez’s home, he becomes haunted by his past in Bolivia, when he and his brother Victor, as young children, were forced to work in the silver mines.

Victor, anxious for a better life for his brother, bargains with El Tio, an idol who guarded mine entrances. Miners often made offerings to El Tio in exchange for their safety. Contreras recalls the day his brother died in a mine; Victor had visited El Tio and gave him their mother’s rosary. After Victor’ death in the mine, Contreras’ fortune indeed changed: A stranger appeared, and offered to be bring him to the United States.

As Contreras continues to use his tricks to convince the Ramirez family that the spirits have vanished, suddenly everyone in the room is taken by surprise when they hear a loud screeching sound. Chaos ensues and Contreras visualizes El Tio at the top of the stars.

Raul Palma, author of this magical adventure book, takes the reader into bizarre encounters, and a battle between good and evil. It’s difficult to be sympathetic with a debt collector, and Contreras is also not a likable guy. He cheats on his wife and may have been responsible for her death. Kudos to Palma for writing a story, though a painful read, with such outlandish characters centered around myths and traditions that are centuries old.