This just out: in today’s National Post — a book review of The Poisoned Pawn by the very awesome Sarah Weinman! Definitely having a Sally Field’s moment!
… a year ago Peggy Blair announced herself with confidence to the Canadian crime fiction world. Her debut mystery The Beggar’s Opera introduced Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, a man trying to do the right thing while navigating the murky waters of contemporary Havana as Fidel Castro’s dictatorial rule slowly gives way to his brother Raul. Ramirez returns in The Poisoned Pawn (Penguin Canada, 318 pp; $22), still guided and haunted by ghostly visions of crime victims past, with a straightforward but stomach-clenching mission direct from Castro’s ministry: fly to Ottawa and fetch an elderly Catholic priest in possession of child pornography so the Cubans can deal with the man.
As Ramirez navigates internecine political negotiations between the two countries — which have very different approaches to the letter and the spirit of the law — a travel advisory looms when two Canadian tourists die under mysterious circumstances, soon proven to involve stealth-acting poison. Blair stuffs even more plot twists, including an Ottawa detective under suspicion for the murder of his wife, the shameful treatment of First Nation orphans and Ramirez’s growing sense of a much larger, and more evil, picture forming that stretches to his government’s most powerful corridors.
The story treads dark and nasty territory, but Blair sidesteps the impulse to wallow in graphic violence by sticking to her characters’ actions and motivations. Through Ramirez, awkwardly navigating Ottawa-style policing, and his good friend Apiro, trying to solve the poison cases to the best of his pathologist ability, and other supporting players, The Poisoned Pawn shows there is a way to hold onto decency and humanity in the face of the worst criminality.