“ Genre: Crime / Thriller / Author: Carolina Garcia-Aguilera / 274 pages / Book published 1996-02 by Putnam Pub Group „
A rich Cuban-American couple in Miami asks P.I. Lupe Solano to find the birth mother of their adopted daughter. The girl suffers from a rare disease and can only be saved through a bone marrow transplant from her mother and that as soon as possible. The lawyer who arranged the adoption refuses to help. Lupe finds out that he runs an illegal baby-selling business and that the babies don't come from Cuban-American mothers in Florida as she first assumed but directly from the island. A man and a woman go there regularly by speed boat handling the difficult part of the deal whereas the lawyer's easy task is to collect money from the prospective parents.
When the man is killed Lupe decides to go to Cuba herself together with the woman Barbara, a gigantic, machete-swinging female, eight months pregnant with twins. They encounter dangerous situations ranging from the Cuban Coastal Guard to sharks. What awaits American citizens entering Cuba clandestinely if they're caught isn't hard to imagine. We have a thrilling plot here which is told without superfluous padding at a fast pace. So far, so good.
Now let's have a look at the setting and the protagonists. We're in Miami among Cuban exiles who may officially be US citizens but who think of Cuba as their homeland *every day* waiting for Castro to die so that they can return. It must be said that the Cuban Revolution is seen here only as a crime against the Cuban population which seems to consist mainly of the rich upper class. Reading the Lupe Solano books we don't get a balanced view of the political situation in Cuba. If the author thinks the same as her fictitious characters I don't know but I assume she does.
Through Lupe, her family and her clients we get a close look at the city of Miami, the hot spots where one can spend loads of money and the upper class Cuban-American community. Occasionally we can also peep at the seedy sides. We learn about the food all Cuban-Americans love: greasy, spicy, sweet. This goes together with mojitos and, for the men, Monte Cristo cigars. They'd rather starve than eat health food. The amount of coffee drunk here equals the amount of tea drunk in British fiction with the difference that tea is usually drunk to calm down the people concerned whereas Cuban coffee can wake up coma patients. Strange, isn't it, that a people not renowned for temperament feels the need to calm down so often whereas a people full of innate spirits fuels itself even more with the help of a drug.
Lupe Solano is another addition to the ever growing group of P.I.s with an ethnic background but contrary to most she isn't the suppressed underdog. In fact she's anything but. She's a self-proclaimed CAP (Cuban-American Princess). Her family home is one of the biggest mansions on the water front, they have a private jetty with boats, she wears expensive clothes, has a Gucci handbag designer made to hide her Beretta and drives a Mercedes. There's hardly a page on which her car isn't mentioned. This is funny for a reader like me who doesn't only live in Mercedesland but also near the Mercedes plant. Here a Mercedes doesn't turn heads, of course, only the most expensive design models get a second glance.
When an author creates a protagonist who's meant to carry not only one book but a whole series, they must give them an interesting character with kinks and quirks and relatives, friends, colleagues the readers want to hear about again and again. Carolina Garcia-Aguilera has achieved this in my opinion. Lupe's family consist of her widowed Papi, her divorced sister Fatima who lives with her twin daughters in Papi's house and her sister Lourdes, a hip nun who wears designer underwear under her habit.
Fatima, Lourdes, Guadelupe (Lupe), the most important destinations for Catholic pilgrims - Catholicism plays an important part in the Lupe Solano books. Although Lupe leads the life of a sinner, she always falls back on a prayer or two and touches her amulets of the Virgin Mary fastened to her bra when in need. 'Once a Catholic, always a Catholic." That's spot on as I know from a friend of mine who underwent a Catholic education, now considers herself an atheist but, without realising it, automatically calls on the saint in charge for the respective situation if she feels that she needs support.
Lupe isn't a dyed-in-the-wool feminist as most of her sisters in crime are. She's the antidote to chick-lit heroines, several Mr Rights queue for her but she refuses all proposals, she's convinced that marriage kills passion. No passion? No way! She uses her men to her advantage, she has no scruples to trade sex for help in difficult cases. Conveniently, the author has given her lovers in professions she needs for her job.
I've found reviews scolding her for exaggerating, for not being realistic with her creation Lupe Solano. Carolina Garcia-Aguilera is a rare exception in the field of mystery writers. When she researched for her first thriller, she took an intern job in an investigative agency in Miami. She liked it so much that she got a private investigator's licence herself and worked in the business for ten years. With her biography firmly rooted in the Cuban exile community and her double major in history and political science, a master's degree in languages and linguistics, a degree in Finance and a Ph.D. in Latin American Affairs and her job experience we can assume that she knew what she did when she created Lupe Solano as an over-the-top, sex crazy, part-time Catholic P.I. Who says that we have to take Lupe seriously? I find it great fun to follow her adventures in an ambience I don't know much about. I was in Miami once for some days but didn't move in Lupe's circles.
Carolina Garcia-Aguilera has published eight Lupe Solano thrillers up to now, besides her debut novel Bloody Waters I've also read Bloody Secrets and Bloody Sugar. I can recommend them all.