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Carolina Garcia-Aguilera

I should have been born a man. I think like one, I act like one, I live my life like one. As a private investigator for the last eight years, I've worked in a field dominated by men. The men I've worked with, as well as the men I've been involved with, have always tried to ascertain who is the real Lupe Solano. Eventually they all discover that I have two sides: a gentle, feminine veneer that I display when I need to, and the ruthless heart and soul of a man underneath.

          — Havana Heat

Biography / Criticism

Carolina Garcia-Aguilera was born in Cuba in July, 1949 to a heritage that includes her great-great-great grandfather whose face appears on the Cuban hundred dollar bill due to his role in Cuban emancipation and fight for freedom from the Spanish colony. One year after Fidel Castro took power, Garcia-Aguilera's family became Cuban-exiles due to the family's perceived danger in the new political situation. They lived in Palm Beach, Florida for two years and moved to New York, which Garcia-Aguilera called home until she moved on to college. She spent four years at Miss Porter's School in Connecticut, followed by Rollins College in Florida where she double majored in history and political science. She also attended Georgetown University where she worked on a master's degree in Languages and Linguistics, until she decided to focus on her new marriage.

This marriage took Garcia-Aguilera around the globe. She and her husband spent a great deal of time in Asia, first Hong Kong, then Tokyo, and finally for eight years, from 1973 to 1981, Beijing, where her first two daughters were born. She then returned to the United States where she studied at the University of South Florida in Tampa and received a degree in finance. Her marriage ended after eleven years, and Garcia-Aguilera moved to Miami to be closer to her brother and sister. She took a job in charge of the Special Services Department of Jackson Memorial Hospital for two years. Following that, she began to work on a Ph.D. in Latin American Affairs at the University of Miami, and then she remarried and had her third daughter.

When Garcia-Aguilera began to research for her first detective story she interned at an investigative agency in Miami. She realized she had talent and applied for a private investigator's license and began to work with a partner on both civil and domestic cases. Her partner quit after a few months to return to government work, but Garcia-Aguilera continued to run the business successfully for ten years. After that time, she returned to what she originally set out to do - write mystery novels.

One can clearly see how important her family and Cuba are to this P.I. turned novelist. Every one of her books is dedicated to her daughters "Sara, Antonia and Gabriella, the loves and passions of my life. And, as always, to my beloved Cuba, an island in chains. May they be broken so she will be free again!" (Havana Heat). This political view is present in each of her novels, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant.

Her mysteries Bloody Waters, Bloody Shame, Bloody Secrets and A Miracle in Paradise have all been on the Murder on Miami Beach best sellers list every year. Each novel includes the protagonist Lupe Solano, a woman with a similar past to Garcia-Aguilera's. Lupe has also been well-established in the private investigator's field. Harper Collin's web site gives us an amusing introduction to Lupe but also warns us to her tendencies. In a unique form of feminism, Lupe refuses to be taken care of, but doesn't mind the door being held open for her once in a while. She is a sucker for good scents, brand names, and red wine. She also totes a gun in her Chanel handbag. Thrilling Detective web site offers, "Lupe's young, tough, self-assured, and not above a roll in the hay, just for the fun of it; much to the dismay of some more genteel fans. Fuck 'em, I say. Sometimes girls just wanna have fun, too. A welcome addition to the genre. "

Garcia-Aguilera begins her series with Bloody Waters in 1996, and in it, the Morenos, a Cuban couple, have asked Lupe Solano to find the birth mother of their adopted daughter who needs a bone marrow transplant with little time to spare. Mostly Fiction expresses:

She's a self-proclaimed Cuban-American Princess (CAP) from a wealthy Coconut Grove family but has found her calling as a Private Investigator -- even if it does take her to some of the seedier parts of Miami. Through Lupe, we get a cultural glimpse into the infrastructure and family life of the Cuban-American community. Lupe is a good daughter, a good sister and the best Catholic that she can be given the circumstances of her profession. Her family ties are strong, but her ties to Cuba are even stronger. Lupe says it is normal for American born Cubans to think of Cuba as their home land and she and everyone else she knows is waiting for Castro to fall (Mostly Fiction). Our personal experience after reading Garcia-Aguilera's first novel concurs with Mostly Fiction's review. Lupe's attempt to be a Catholic woman and member of "higher society" as well as a personal Private Investigator makes it difficult to uphold the script each role provides. She finds it difficult to be a good Catholic woman when her career that she is so passionate about puts her in situations in which most religious, upper-class women are not found.

A mixed review of this first novel is provided by Kirkus Reviews:

A hellish trip it is, too, producing a high body count but accomplishing Lupe's mission. The plot tends to ramble, and characters don't always come to life, despite the attention lavished on them, but the Cuban-American Catholic background is a facet of Florida life not often explored in this genre. A talent worth watching. Lupe is nostalgic about her first trip to her homeland of Cuba when she goes there to investigate a case with strong Catholic ties. Concurrent with the rest of Lupe's life, strong Catholic undertones dominate the direction of the plot. There is high suspense due to the high risk involved in this particular investigation. This story contains many mentions of the term "WASP" (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) as well as an introduction to the "CAP. " One of the most pleasurable aspects of this mystery novel is the history lesson in the mass exodus from Cuba and the various debates surrounding Castro's role politically.

Carolina Garcia-Aguilera continues her series with Bloody Shame. With less politics and history involved, we are entwined in the story of a dramatic love square/triangle. Lupe loses her best friend in a tragic accident that leads her to take on a case from her on/off lover, defense attorney Tommy McDonald, ending her vacation early, to help her forget about her grief. The book focuses a lot on the portrayal of the perfect couple, Alfonso and Isabel Arango, and a "secret" arrangement between the couple that engulfs Lupe's investigation. Lupe's objectivity is clouded by the loss of her best friend. Her feelings lead her to breaking the law on numerous occasions to solve the case which includes the manipulation of her sometimes lover, Assistant State's Attorney, Charlie Miliken for information, as well as Mario, an employee at Vital Statistics, in stealing sealed documents. Although touching on less political and historical issues, Garcia-Aguilera touches on numerous social issues, most of which are not talked about amongst the Latino community.

Bloody Secrets is the third installment in the Lupe Solano series. In blunt contrast to the last novel, there is a great amount of political and historical issues that are touched upon in this book. Luis Delgado has come to Lupe's office for help. He claims that Miguel and Teresa de la Torre, prominent members of Miami's exile society, have tried to kill him in order to not fulfill an agreement with his late father. Mostly Fiction states that, "the author's technique is to gain our sympathy for Luis Delgado by giving us enough information on the history of these two families that we therefore understand how Lupe is drawn into the case at a more personal level than is professionally appropriate. " As much as Lupe tries to remain objective, she is again unable to do so. In a book that begins in Cuba and ends with a number of twists and turns in Miami, Garcia-Aguilera touches on issues that are in the back of Miami Cuban exiles' minds that are not widely talked or written about.

A Miracle in Paradise (1999) abruptly changes the pattern of bloody titles. Although the body count continues to be significant, this story cancels the pattern Garcia-Aguilera had so comfortably set and explores the miracle of Virgin at Ermita de la Caridad who is said will shed tears on October 10th, the date of the start of the war for Cuban independence from Spain. Lupe's sister is a nun at a local Catholic Church where the Mother Superior knows about Lupe's job, and asks her to perform a private investigation of this strange and bloody miracle. We begin a journey into the Catholic Church to find out why and how a group of Yugoslavian nuns is planning on producing such a radical and amazing event.

BookBrowser Review comments, "The latest Lupe Solano novel is different from the previous books in this warm series. Lupe seems more introspective than usual as she questions her beliefs in Cuban reunification and religion. The mystery centers on the activities of the local Catholic communities. Carolina Garcia-Aguilera paints a picture of piety battling with political infighting and unchristian behavior. This classy ethnic series provides readers with one of the more exciting and entertaining entrances into the Southern Florida Hispanic community. " Kirkus Reviews is not so positive when proclaiming, "The story [is] dragged down by an unexpectedly skittish client, a disappointing killer, and a frustratingly inconclusive conclusion. Along the way, though, Lupe folds a tense anti-Castro subplot and some disturbingly manipulative sex into a tale whose ending couldn't possibly have satisfied everybody. " Lupe looks into the political issues of the separation of the Cuban people - those who are living in exile and those who remained on the island. It is refreshing that Garcia-Aguilera has chosen to introduce the character Alvaro who produces a viewpoint that is liberal and the opposite of Lupe's - to open a dialogue with the current government of Cuba.

Overall, Miracle in Paradise was successful in providing a plot in which the reader stays engaged, as well as thought-provoking political issues that sparked our interest for further education about the Catholic Church and Cuban customs. Garcia-Aguilera presented enough information that we could read the text and enjoy it, feel satisfied, and somewhat connected to the story. However, once we made further investigations of our own on Catholic miracles, and beliefs, and later went back to the text, we found much more depth and substance and meaning. It is much recommended that each reader of the Lupe Solano mysteries do some personal investigating themselves about the culture and religion of Catholic Cuban-Americans prior to reading the novels. You will surely find the reading experience more significant and rich.

Lupe's adventures continue in the fourth book, Havana Heat (2000. ) This book begins with a relative's marriage into the wealthy Miranda family known for their cigars. The tireless reception is interrupted by the groom's Aunt Lucia who claims she knows something about the eighth tapestry in the famed collection The Hunt of the Unicorn. Questions of ownership arise and discussions of Castro's claiming of property in the name of Cuba arise. Jane Addams of amazon.com claims, "There's enough suspense here to fuel an interesting plot, along with the allure of a closed society whose rituals and mores are exotic and largely unknown to many readers, and a heroine whose combination of sass, smarts and style make her consistently fun to hang out with. You could do a lot worse than curl up with Lupe until Sue Grafton pens another in her alphabet series. " Certainly one of the better in the series, Garcia-Aguilera pulls a lot of suspense into her novels, keeping the reader aware of risks involved. Lupe must return to Cuba for the tapestry, among other duties, so the reader is well aware that the heroine may not return alive. Well, we pretend that this is a possibility. Joy Malinowski of the Philadelphia City Paper writes, "The story is feel-good hokey with many heavy-handed references to Cuban culture. But if you're in the mood for a light crime book with a tropical touch, this might be your cup of cafe con leche. " One could count the number of times the word "Cuba" or "Cuban" is mentioned in the Lupe Solano series and would lose track a few pages into it, this is true.

The most recent addition to the Solano series is Bitter Sugar (2001), has Lupe hired by her father's closest friend Ramon to investigate an offer to buy sugar mills that are now owned by Castro's Cuba. His nephew Alexander is partner and wants to sell, and when he is found dead, Ramon is arrested for second-degree murder. Lupe is well aware she has more to prove with this particular client, and takes great risks for her father's friend. Publisher's Weekly states, "Lupe is not always so skillful at juggling her two lives, that of a cosseted daughter, still living at home and pinning medals of the Virgin to her brassiere strap, with that of the emancipated single woman, a savvy PI with lovers and a wardrobe to die for. The author exploits this dichotomy to sometimes hilarious and sometimes tragic effect. " One can only think of those roles ingrained from college courses - the Mary/Virgin image versus the Bad Girl/Whore image. Garcia-Aguilera plays with this duality to the point of painful stereotypes. Lupe is Daddy's little girl, but she also sleeps around. She presses these moments to the point of absurdity, but Garcia-Aguilera does raise interesting questions regarding the landholding of Cuba currently. We wonder why anyone might be interested in purchasing land in Cuba, and there is concern that Cuba might revert back to a colony if Spain continues to purchase land from the Castro government. Not if Lupe can help it.

Carrie Bissey of Booklist states, "Cuban-born Lupe Solano is not a hard-boiled private eye. She has a weakness for cafe con leche, long baths, and the scent of men's cologne. She keeps her office (managed by her sexually confused and outlandishly outfitted cousin) stocked with fine wine. " Lupe does not fit the stereotype of a strict feminist either. Often she calls herself a "liberated woman" who proudly carries a Berreta in her wounded designer bag, but she also has an obsession with brand name clothing and has expensive materialistic qualities. Solano uses sex to manipulate a number of characters that are woven throughout the book - especially Charlie, the state attorney, and Tommy, a ruthless defense lawyer. She is a self-proclaimed CAP which is problematic in its stereotypes of race and gender. The degrees to which Garcia-Aguilera goes to describe her character's idiosyncrasies are often comic but also painful. There is a strange concern over makeup and appearance for a private investigator. She wears her designer shoes and concentrates on the condition of her Mercedes. While these things might be important in Lupe's everyday life, she also frets while on the job, and when there tends to be a significant body count in the series, one would think Garcia-Aguilera would create a character with more realistic concentration.

Lupe Solano does bring a lot of positive elements to her readers. Garcia-Aguilera seeps her books in the richness of Cuban, especially Miami-based Cuban exiles, culture and politics. For a while we only get the point of view of Lupe and her father Papi, which is hopes to remove Castro soon (and this removal is preferred to be through death. ) Much of his concerns about health result from Castro's condition in determination to outlive this leader -- he quits smoking cigars when he learns Castro has quit smoking, for example. Her family is unique in dynamic -- there is her sister Lourdes, the hip nun who totes a cell phone and wears designer underwear; there is Lupe, the independent PI; Fatima who appears to be an old-maid type taking on the mother role with her twin daughters; and the traditional parents, Mami who has passed away and was much loved, and Papi who keeps Mami's ashes in an urn on a boat facing Cuba, ready to return the moment Castro is no longer in power. Their house is unusually large and the family is unusually rich, making Lupe stand out amongst other ethnic detectives who generally come from middle or working-class backgrounds.

Lupe Solano becomes a feisty addition to detective fiction -- an opinionated Cuban woman who teaches the reader about a culture deep in the tropics through fast-paced mystery and crime. She uses her "feminine charm" to maneuver through a man's world and is quite successful at what she does.

Selected Bibliography

Works by the Author

Related Links

Carolina on the Web
Garcia-Aguilera's official website.

HarperCollins Author Tracker
Keep track of new work by Garcia-Aguilera.

NPR: Interview with Garcia-Aguielera
In this eleven minute interview, Garcia-Aguilera talks about her previous work as a private investigator.

Report a dead link or suggest a new one by emailing voices@umn.edu.

Contributors

This page was researched and submitted by Molly Sutton, Sara Mozayeny, and Nubia Esparza on 5/7/02.