Havana Heat: A Lupe Solano Mysteryby Carolina Garcia-Aguilera
But, though she's done art-world investigations in the past, this one is different, because the trail to this work of
A leading remark at a large Cuban-American wedding sets Lupe Solano on a dangerous hunt for a legendary masterpiece. When the groom's pushy aunt claims to know the whereabouts of a rumored eighth Unicorn Tapestry, Lupe is intrigued�and hooked.
But, though she's done art-world investigations in the past, this one is different, because the trail to this work of artwhich may or may not existis covered with blood. Apparently someone else also believes the Tapestry is real, and believes strongly enough to kill for it.
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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.
These idle thoughts flitted through my mind as I looked out the car window at the familiar scenery of Miami. Alvaro Mendoza, my current love interest, was driving, and we were heading north on Granada Boulevard toward the Biltmore Hotel to attend my niece Marianna's wedding reception.
Alvaro was actually more than just a passing liaison. He and I had been together for almost a year now, a record of sorts for me. And, another first, he was Cuban, the first Latino man I had ever been seriously involved with -- Latino being the current fashionable word to refer to us Hispanics. One night I actually sat at the dinner table with my sister Fatima's twelve-year-old twins and concocted different possible terms that might be used in the future to refer to those of us who lived in the New World but had Spanish origins.
We came up with peoplissimos, taninos, s�personas, and a few other ridiculous variations on the same theme.
I saw the lights of the Biltmore off in the distance and began to envision the scene at the party. Technically, Marianna wasn't my niece; she was my third cousin Mirta's daughter. Marianna was marrying into the famousMiranda cigar family. I had spoken with Tia Elena, the bride's grandmother, and learned that at last count the guest list was approaching one thousand. It was just your basic warm, cozy, intimate family wedding reception -- Cuban style. The actual ceremony had taken place earlier that day, at the Church of the Little Flower, with only the immediate family in attendance -- at the young couple's insistence and their families' displeasure.
I fidgeted in the front seat of the Mercedes, unable to find a position in which I wasn't being impaled by some article of clothing. Everything I was wearing seemed designed to divert my blood from where it needed to flow, from my emerald earrings with too-tight clasps to the Manolo Blahnick pointed shoes that I was certain had been designed by a conspiracy of podiatrists.
The drive from my home in Cocoplum to the hotel wasn't long -- fifteen minutes the way Alvaro drove, seven if I had been behind the wheel. But it felt like an eternity, It had been a long time since I wore a long dress, and I was alternating between fits of pain and numbness. Ominously, I hadn't been tested by having to stand up for more than a couple of minutes at a time.
I tried to breathe slow and steady. My corset was rubbing against the girdle I'd been forced to wear in order to be poured into my form-displaying, not-one-inch-of-fabric-to-spare Helmut Lang dress. What the hell. All the pain and misery were going to be worth it. I looked gorgeous. The dress was black and backless, and it fit me like a second skin.
It was a triumph. The only problem was that the Austrian designer hadn't created the dress to be worn by a thirty year-old Cuban woman who had a weakness for chocolate and a backslider's approach to exercise. Although I hated to admit it, perhaps I had relaxed a little during my time with Alvaro and put on a couple of pounds. Alvaro said he liked me sexy and voluptuous, and he was always trying to get me to eat seconds when we had dinner together. So far I hadn't resisted his entreaties.
Achieving my look that night hadn't been easy. Nighttime assaults on beachheads seldom are. Colin Powell spent less time getting ready for the Gulf War than I had preparing for this wedding. At society gatherings such as this I always wanted to look my best. It was a matter of self-esteem, not to mention my professional standing. I knew the Cuban women there would be scrutinizing me like a jeweler looking for imperfections in a stone, searching for evidence that I was letting myself go and that my sleazy profession was catching up with me. My complicated personal life had given them plenty to talk about over the years; I sure as hell didn't intend to add to the rumor mill by showing up looking less than stunning, or as though my chosen lifestyle had taken its toll on my appearance.
My ensemble that night had been the result of a team effort -- and Aida, our housekeeper, deserved special commendation. Her great achievement had been to close up my dress without embedding any of my epidermis in the zipper's teeth, no small feat for an octogenarian. There had also been a valiant young saleslady at the Saks Fifth Avenue lingerie department, who hadn't lost heart when she heard me yelling, cursing, and grunting in the dressing room trying to fit into my corset. Instead, she leaped into the fray, helping me wedge my way in, then stuffing my ample breasts into the cups. The price I paid for beauty. I hated to be reined in, physically or otherwise.
Alvaro was quiet, concentrating on his driving. The winding streets of Coral Gables were notoriously badly lit. The residents apparently liked it that way, because every proposal to add more streelights was inevitably voted down. The unspoken understanding was that no one wanted non-residents to be able to find their way around.
We pulled...Havana Heat. Copyright � by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Lupe is a sassy, bright, interesting Cuban-American
Unlike many Cuban-American writers whose characters are often taken by their own Remembrances of Things Cuba-Before-Fidel, Garcia-Aguilera's work is refreshingly in the present. To write about Cubans in Exile is to focus on a traumatized people. Indeed, Garcia-Aguilera is at home with the loss by trick most Cubans feel for their past. But, if art imitates life, these fictitious Cubans have a lot more to do than sink into sorrow. How very Cuban! These are very active people. Who has time to worry about what happened years before or how non-Hispanic Whites treat Cubans in this country when there is a thriving business to run in a sexy town with a colorful family and a string of plans to subvert Fidel and have fun to boot? These people have no time to be anyone's victim. They are an anathema to the liberal deconstructionists who cast 'minorities' as victims and they, their guide. These Cuban-Americans are successful, active, colorful and full of life. Will Miami ever rest while Cubans live there in great numbers? In that respect, Garcia-Aguilera approaches a greater verisimilitude than generally seen in Cuban-American fiction.This is a book that, on its face, is a fast paced and fun read; easily cast as a lighweight. But this is more than fun. It trancends entertainment and shows the collective psyche of the Cuban-American viz-a-viz the anguish, the loss and then the re-conquest of wealth, the emphasis on family, the sex, the fun, the politics and the refusal to submit to adversity. I highly recommended it. Ralph A. Leonart New York City
Cuban-American private investigator Lupe Solano cannot stand attending the society wedding even if her cousin is the bride. However, the boring reception picks up when the groom¿s Aunt Lucia declares that an eighth Unicorn Tapestry exists in Havana. Lupe knows that the Upper Manhattan Cloisters Museum houses the seven known tapestries, but the possibility of another one is intriguing except for a trip back to Cuba to obtain the priceless item. As Lupe mulls over the wisdom of a clandestine visit to Havana, sleazy art dealer Angel Estrada tries to hire Lupe to also go to Cuba to smuggle out paintings by his sister. Finally, her former lover attorney Tommy McDonald wants Lupe to look into the ownership of an apparently stolen painting. When murder enters the fray, Lupe realizes Havana may be her only chance of not becoming the next victim. HAVANA HEAT, the fifth Lupe Solano mystery, is an exciting tale that provides focus on the Cuban-American population. The story line includes three cases that keep Lupe hopping non-stop. Lupe retains her freshness and the support cast propels the tale forward, provides humor to the plot and adds insight into the lead character. Carolina Garcia-Aguilera has written another strong ethnic mystery that showcases her ability to provide the audience with an engaging novel. Harriet Klausner