Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. You may not think about it, but Miami isn’t just a major US city. It’s also a very important Caribbean city, with a strong dose of Latin America in its culture. To get a sense of what Miami is like, let’s turn today’s spotlight on Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s Bloody Waters, the first of her series featuring PI Guadalupe ‘Lupe’ Solano.
Solano is Cuban-American (almost more Cuban than American in culture), who opened her own PI business after interning for a few years with a large agency. One day, she gets a pair of new clients, Jose Antonio and Lucia Moreno. They’ve been referred to her by her family’s attorney, Stanley Zimmerman, and they have a serious problem. A few years earlier, they adopted a baby, whom they’ve called Michelle, through a man named Elio Betancourt. They knew that the adoption wasn’t completely legal, but were desperate for a baby, and had the money. Betancourt arranged everything, and all seemed well. Now, though, Michelle is seriously ill, and needs a bone marrow transplant. The only one who can serve as donor is the child’s biological mother. But the Morenos never learned the woman’s name. And Betancourt has categorically refused to help them at all. Now, they want Solano to find the mother and get her to agree to donate bone marrow. Solano takes the case, and begins a search.
She starts at the most likely hospital, Jackson Memorial, but that’s not much help. She doesn’t have much information; and, in any case, what she’s looking for is confidential, and she likely can’t get it. The local Bureau of Vital Statistics, where every birth is registered, has no record, since Michelle and her family didn’t go through a legal, court-sponsored adoption. And the doctor who delivered the baby has retired and moved away.
But Solano is not without resources. With some help from some part-time investigators she occasionally hires, she learns some of the truth about the Moreno baby, and several others, too. It doesn’t tell her the name she needs, but it gives her strong leads. Then, things begin to get dangerous. Someone seems to be watching her, even getting into her apartment. Then, one of the people she interviews is murdered. There’s another murder, too. It’s now clear that someone is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent Solano from getting to the truth. Meanwhile, time is running out for Michelle Moreno. Solano will have to use every resource she has, and try to stay alive, if she’s to find the birth mother before it’s too late.
The novel takes place, as I say, mostly in Miami, which Solano describes as,
‘…the unofficial capital of Latin America.’
And we see that influence very clearly. Solano is Cuban (as is her creator), and so are most of her friends and acquaintances. So, readers get a look at the Cuban culture of the city. Food, lifestyle, religion, language use, and a lot more show how close Cuba really is to Miami.
That culture is especially clear in Solano’s family. Her parents, like many people, moved to Miami from Cuba after the revolution that put Fidel Castro in power. They still consider themselves Cuban, though. They speak Cuban Spanish at home, and Solano’s father speaks often of going back as soon as Castro is out of power. They’re an unabashedly Roman Catholic family, too, although Solano herself is more culturally Catholic, if I can put it that way, then observant.
The story is told from Solano’s point of view (first person, past tense), so we learn about her character. She’s very much attached to her family members, even though sometimes she gets irritated with them. In fact, her cousin Leonardo is her assistant. But she has no desire to give up her independence and go back home to live. She also has no wish to marry, settle down and have children. She has more than one man in her life, but she likes answering only to herself. In that sense, she’s not at all traditional in her views. She makes her share of mistakes, and finds her share of trouble. But she’s tough, smart and quick-thinking. As she puts it,
‘In Miami, you could find yourself in deep waters very quickly. Staying sharp was a matter of life and death.’
She also has a certain wit. Here, for instance, is how she describes Zimmerman:
‘The Morenos were also his clients, which meant they had to be really well-off. Stanley Zimmerman didn’t have poor clients. He thought pro bono was something Julius Caesar fed his troops.’
Readers who prefer strong female protagonists will appreciate Solano.
The mystery itself is connected to the illegal adoption business, and it gets ugly. There are couples desperate to have children; young, pregnant, unmarried women in a terrible situation in life; and greedy people who are willing to take advantage of both. There are some important issues of moral ambiguity, too.
Solano solves the mystery through a lot of telephone calls, legwork, and searches through documents and photographs, as well as a few clever ruses. The novel was published in 1996, before today’s social media and other online resources were readily available. So, Solano doesn’t have the luxury of doing Internet searches. The book provides a look at what PI work was like just before those modern resources became routine.
Bloody Waters shows a dark side of life in Miami, and of the adoption process. It’s a sometimes-gritty look at the life of a PI, and introduces a Cuban-American sleuth who doesn’t mind taking chances if that’ll get her answers. But what’s your view? Have you read Bloody Waters? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 31 July/Tuesday, 1 August – Trial of Passion – William Deverell
Monday, 7 August/Tuesday, 8 August – Murder in Marais – Cara Black
Monday, 14 August/Tuesday, 15 August – Cemetery of Swallows – Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol