Published on April 21st 2012Home » Arts & Culture » Books » The Beggar’s Opera by Peggy Blair – book review
Inspector Ricardo Ramirez of the Havana Major Crimes Division investigates the death of a young street boy, who appears to have been raped and murdered by a vacationing Canadian detective, Mike Ellis. The case, seemingly straight forward at first, leads the reader through a series of convoluted twists and turns, just the thing for a rainy afternoon in front of the fire.
Clues abound, to questions the reader does not even know are raised until the several denouments at the end of the book. Looking back, you can see how skilfully the author has crafted her story, even to the last surprise.
The cast of characters comes convincingly alive, from the dwarf coroner Apiro, to the prostitute Maria Vasquez. Mike Ellis is an Ottawa police detective with a secret, which the reader really cannot guess. WIly inspector Ramirez believes himself to be dying of a fatal disease. Apiro is an acute, very smart coroner.The young Canadian lawyer sent down to Cuba to assist Mike Ellis makes some naive assumptions based on her Canadian legal experience. All are achingly human, and the the investigation is characterized by false assumptions, duplicity and self interested politics, which engage the reader.
The novel moves along at a good clip and evokes the shabby magic of Havana, where shortages are the norm and a factor in the police work of the Major Crimes Division. The story weaves in Cuban history and culture and sets the reader firmly at the site. The reader feels the reality and plausibility of the unfolding scene. The one element that did not work well for this reviewer, but may for others, was the invocation of the ghosts that Ramierez sees, symptoms of his illness, which carry suggestions of an ancient African religion.
This is a satisfying book. The author takes care to tie up all of the loose ends, some of which you don't realize are "loose" or "ends". Peggy Blair has a future ahead of her as a mystery writer but topping this book will be a challenge.