And very nice to see Ian Rankin getting a nod, too. Here’s the full review!
From Harrogate to Havana: Putting Ramirez on the Map
Midnight in Havana
Scotland on Sunday 7 June 2013
In her acknowledgments, Canadian lawyer Peggy Blair thanks Ian Rankin for helping her to find a literary agent when they met at the Harrogate crime writing festival. Without that, she admitted, she wouldn’t have been published – and this excellent debut shows what a fine talent we’d be missing.
Her central character is Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police. He suffers from a form of dementia in which the victims of crimes he hasn’t yet solved follow him around like ghosts. For much of the story, their presence seems to be a distraction but it is skilfully resolved before the conclusion.
Mike and Hillary Ellis are on holiday in Havana in a vain attempt to mend their marriage. Mike works for the Canadian police and is on extended leave following the death in action of his police partner which has left Mike badly scarred, mentally and facially.
He suffers from survivors’ guilt. When his wife returns home to the divorce courts, he finds himself in prison for the rape and murder of a child beggar. The evidence against him seems to be compelling. So he calls to Havana his lawyer, Celia Jones.
Then there is pathologist Hector Apiro, who believes that romance has passed him by, mainly because of his short stature. He is nevertheless a dedicated doctor and his professional approach to his work saves Ramirez from a serious mistake and Ellis from a dreadful fate in a Cuban prison. The police are under enormous pressure to get a quick result, despite the paltry resources available in socialist Cuba, but Ramirez does not sacrifice his professional integrity just to get a quick result. Blair does not shirk from depicting the harsh realities of life in Cuba, particularly for a Canadian policeman in prison accused of murdering a child, but nor does she try to make political points at the expense of the regime.
This has all the ingredients of the best detective novels; intrigue, atmosphere, good characters, unlikely romance and above all realism – except, of course, for the Ramirez ghosts. It has the added attraction that just as the reader thinks the mystery is solved, there are still many unexpected, and credible, turns to the story.
“Havana has two faces: the one the tourists see and the real one,” Blair writes – but she gives us both, having conceived of the idea of a crime novel set in Havana while on a Christmas visit there. It was certainly a productive holiday, and I am already looking forward to Inspector Ramirez’s next case.