Saturday, February 4, 2012


By Peggy Blair
Penguin Canada

Pour yourself a cup of Cubita coffee or a Cubra Libre if that’s more your style, get the fireplace roaring and make yourself comfy because once you start reading The Beggar’s Opera, you won’t want to put it down.

It grabs the reader right from the opening pages, a prologue in this case and what a memorable introduction to the main character Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police. That’s a mouthful and it sums up what this story is about. Cuba, crime, police.

The crime in this case is young boy who’s body is found along the shoreline in Old Havana. He’s also been raped. Just hours before, he’d been spotted begging, along with a gang of boys, in the streets, hitting on tourists. He got lucky. He got money from Mike Ellis, a detective with the Rideau Police Service, who’s on a Cuban vacation with his wife. Unfortunately for Ellis, all the evidence points to him and he ends up in jail.

Ramirez tries to beat the clock in securing an indictment which will keep Ellis behind bars until it’s time for his trial. Seventy-two hours is all the time he has. However, he’s also having to contend with Celia Jones, a formerly an RCMP negotiator, she’s now the departmental lawyer who’s been asked by Ellis’s boss to go to Havana and investigate. She’s up against what seems an entirely different legal system and doesn’t know who to trust.

These are all damaged people. Ellis is recovering from the psychological trauma of the line-of-duty death of his partner and severe facial scars he received in a knife attack. Jones is dealing with a negotiation that went wrong and ended in death. Ramirez is dying and the disease causes him to see the ghosts of the victims of his unsolved crimes. This all adds many more layers to an already complex crime.

The scenes of modern day Havana seem real and disturbing…I say ‘seem’ because I’ve never visited there. It’s a way of living quite far removed from Ottawa, where Peggy Blair lives. That she’s captured it so vividly attests to her writing skills. The dialogue is crisp and focused. The characters are ones who will stay with you, especially Ramirez. Which is good because she’s now working on a sequel.

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