Andrew Armitage’s review of The Beggar’s Opera appeared in the Owen Sound Sun Times over the weekend. Unfortunately, I don’t have a URL for it, but here’s what it said. (I used to do a lot of work up in the Owen Sound area when I acted for the Chippewas of Nawash, many years ago, so this is really lovely to see!)
Ottawa’s Peggy Blair, a longtime lawyer and Crown attorney, once spent a Christmas in Havana watching bored young policemen roam the Malecon — which is exactly the setting for her debut crime novel, The Beggar’s Opera (Penguin Canada, $24).
This one is Canadian crime fiction with a difference. Mike Ellis, a detective with the Rideau Regional Police, has taken his wife to Cuba for a holiday vacation hoping to forestall an impending divorce. The couple are seen on the Malecon arguing. Then a young Cuban boy begs a few pesos from Ellis.
When Hillary leaves him to go home to Toronto, it is Christmas Eve. Mike gets blotto, ending up in bed alone in an alcoholic daze. And then he is charged with the child’s rape and murder. Every shred of evidence indicates his guilt, from semen, blood samples and hidden pornography to the detective’s wallet and badge found on the victim’s body.
Canadians in Cuba have few rights. There is no formal extradition between the two nations. Convicted child rapists last only days in Cuban jails. That is where Ellis will go within 72 hours, the time he must be either indicted or freed.
Ellis calls upon his chief back home, who sends down on the same day a high powered lawyer named Celia Jones who, in turn, becomes the Canadian detective of the story.
Cut to Inspector Ramirez and Detective Sanchez of the major crimes unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police. The two are totally convinced of Ellis’ guilt, an open and shut case. And now the ratiocination (detective work) begins, pitting the Rideau police with their colleagues in Cuba.
This is as an exciting crime novel as you will read this year — and one that places Cuba, a Canadian choice of destinations squarely in the sights of a writer who describes the country in detail.
Be warned! In no way is it a sympathetic view. Still, this is detective work described at its best, well-crafted, suspenseful and exotic.
My only quarrel is the lengthy foreshadowing near the end that tells readers that they will be hearing more from Ricardo Ramirez in a subsequent sequel. And this is only a minor quibble.