Reading is a lot like fishing. Even if using tackle and bait for only one species, or genre, you know you’ll never catch them all, or read them all. But, when wading into the section of the stream at the library where the mysteries lurk, the desire is to land a prize catch, one you want to tell everyone about.
Such was the case when HAVANA HEAT was reeled in. To say this book, written by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, is a mystery does not cover its scope. The book is as multi-layered as a wedding cake.
Set in Miami, HAVANA HEAT does not give the reader the flash and flesh of a Tubbs and Crocket episode of Miami Vice. At every level, it pings with the ring of reality that only someone with the author’s background could write.
The book is the fifth in a series featuring Lupe Solano, a private investigator living and working in Miami who carries the passion, as does the author, of her Cuban heritage. Family relationships, food, drink, love of the island homeland; they all come through in the writing.
Fidel Castro had been in power for nearly a year when, in December 1959, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s mother picked up her ten-year-old daughter at school and took her to the airport, telling her she was to spend Christmas with her grandparents in Palm Beach. She has never returned to her native Cuba.
In a New York Times interview, she said, ''I feel this sense of loss, of unfinished business, of having been taken violently from my home and from the normal course my life would have followed.''
Garcia-Aguilera presents the world of private investigators without any of the fudging on or glossing over of details is often found in novels written by folks who know their subject matter only through second-hand experiences or discussions. The author spent ten years working in the business.
She wanted to write, but wanted background experience. She went to work for a private detective firm. She told the New York Times, ''I thought I would do it for a few months and then get back to my book,' but I ended up staying for 10 years. I loved it.''
HAVANA HEAT gives readers a picture of Miami’s Cuban society, a cross-section of life, from those who have achieved the American dream of success to those who live on the edge, plotting and scheming for their next score.
The story plot also involves Cuban art. Readers get a glimpse of a shadowy world, from real works confiscated by Castro’s government and sold to raise cash, to forgeries that are sold with faked documents on official, but stolen government forms.
The Old Cobbler has never been known as a connoisseur of a book’s dust jacket art. But in the case of this series, I would be first in line if a local art gallery announced it was hanging an exhibit of poster sized prints of Garcia-Aguilera’s cover art. They are bold in design, vibrant in color, without being garish. Several have been included for the viewing pleasure they give.
Garcia-Aguilera won the Flamingo Award in 1999 and the Shamus Award in 20000, but has not yet climbed to the heights that some of her contemporaries have with their more simple plots and less complex characters.
After reading a few of the “big name” reviews of her works, it is the Old Cobbler’s opinion that the author has delivered a more complex story than those doing the reviews are used to dealing with. Some of the reviews left the impression that the books were liked, but the reviewer was not exactly sure why.
Based on a review of readers' comments, the author seems to have generated more reader buzz with ONE HOT SUMMER, a story in the romance genre, but again one that is more complex and thoughtful than the average romantic read.
It does appear that Hollywood and the TV industry have gotten the message that in Lupe Solano, the author has created a character that has star appeal. If Lupe Solano appears on the screen, big or little, it is The Old Cobbler's bet that Carolina Garcia-Aguilera will take her rightful place among our best-selling mystery authors.