The Beat Magazine Book Review – The Beggar’s Opera

Richard Young, publisher and managing editor of The Beat Magazine, gives The Beggar’s Opera 4 stars out of 4! You can read the entire review here but I’ve excerpted some of the high points. Thanks, Richard, much appreciated!

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In her impressive debut mystery novel, The Beggar’s Opera, Ottawa author Peggy Blair takes her readers beyond the resorts revealing a world of corrupt police officials, sex tourism, abusive Catholic priests, and bureaucratic ineptitude and red-tape, centring her story around the brutal rape and murder of Arturo Montenegro, a young Cuban street beggar in Old Havana.

Blair has introduced a very capable investigator in Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit, who is assigned to the case — under pressure, at least indirectly, from El Comandante himself — to bring about a quick conviction to set an example. To add to the book’s quirky flavour, Ramirez is apparently dying from an inherited disease that causes hallucinations. In this case, his hallucinations just happen to be the ghosts of the victims of murders he is investigating.

What should make the story a tad chilling for Canadian readers is the fact that the main suspect is a vacationing Canadian policeman, Mike Ellis, who is in Cuba trying to patch up his failing marriage. After his wife abruptly returns to Canada, Ellis goes on a Christmas Eve bender in the company of a prostitute, soon finding himself behind bars as all fingers point to him in what appears to be an open and shut case. 

Enter Ottawa attorney, Celia Jones, who is sent to Cuba by Ellis’ boss to get to the bottom of things. And get to the bottom of things she does as she grapples with the vagarities of Cuban law and corrupt police officials and wary Cuban civilians to uncover the truth within an imposed 72 hour time frame.

Blair introduces readers to an intriguing cast of supporting characters, including forensic scientist Hector Apiro and prostitute Maria Vasquez who is not all she seems to be, and various doormen and bartenders – most of whom seem to be on the make

This is an impressive first effort – it was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger for 2010 — and I look forward to finding out what Inspector Ramirez and company are up to in future instalments in the series.

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