“Poignant, carefully crafted and hopeful…” The Beggar’s Opera

A new review of TBO in Fresh Fiction!

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Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit, is called out on Christmas day to investigate the death of eight-year-old Arturo Montenegro who was viciously raped and tossed into the ocean. All avenues of the investigation lead Inspector Ramirez to arrest Mike Ellis, a Canadian police detective in Cuba on vacation, but Ramirez isn’t as convinced of Mike’s guilt as the evidence wants him to be. Everything is too neat.

Celia Jones, former hostage negotiator and currently a Canadian lawyer, flies to Cuba at the request of Mike’s police chief, but Cuban law is nothing like Canadian law. If Celia can’t find evidence that Mike is innocent within two days, he will be arraigned and sent to prison to await trial. If he survives his wait, he’ll face being executed by firing squad. Celia has no choice but to dig into Havana’s darker side as she searches for proof of Mike’s innocence.

THE BEGGAR’S OPERA by Peggy J. Blair is an intriguing mystery that not only exposes the hidden secrets that haunt a person but those that can haunt a society. I love that the story is set in Cuba and with great sensitivity and understanding. Both the pride and sorrows are written in beautiful and heart-breaking detail, creating a world full of contradictions but with an underlying strength of character.

The story is told through multiple points of view which in the beginning tends to slow the pace but works in the end to weave small pieces of information together to reveal the truth behind Arturo’s death. Ramirez drives the beginning of the story. Celia’s arrival shifts the story more into her territory and by the end Ramirez wraps up. This feels slightly unbalanced because Ramirez and Celia often work against each other to solve the case. Both characters are sharply intelligent, driven, and haunted.

Celia is haunted by her failures, and Ramirez is haunted by actual spirits. The dead come to him just as they did to his grandmother who passed her gift of communicating with the dead on to Ramirez. This plays largely into Ramirez’ motivation, and is heavily weighted in the prologue and first chapter, but the supernatural gives way throughout to more traditional methods of criminal investigation. THE BEGGAR’S OPERA appears to be the first in a new series starring Inspector Ramirez and it’ll be interesting to watch how this communication will develop and how it will influence how he solves crimes.

Set in the dichotomy of Havana, THE BEGGAR’S OPERA is a compelling mystery with flawed, haunted characters that reach beyond stereotypes. Poignant, carefully crafted, and hopeful, Peggy Blair has created a new series that is worth reading.

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