This comes from Marina Sofia, a regular reviewer at Crime Fiction Lover, which I think is the go-to website for crime fiction reviews: much appreciated!
It’s Ian Rankin we have to thank for this intriguing debut by Canadian lawyer turned crime writer Peggy Blair. Released in North America under the title ‘The Beggars’ Opera’, the book had been shortlisted for the Debut Dagger, so the author made the effort to go to Harrogate. Depressed by her failure to win, in the hotel bar in Harrogate she met Ian Rankin, who had just returned from a trip to Ottawa. A short chat later, she found herself with a recommendation for an agent and just a few weeks later the book was on the hot list at Frankfurt Book Fair.
It is easy to see why it was snapped up so hurriedly: the fascinating setting serves not just as an excuse for some atmospheric writing, but is also used to great effect to further the plot. Legal niceties don’t seem to have a place in a totalitarian state and I loved the almost casual acceptance of police corruption and how the Cuban detective resigns himself to state intervention. The story starts with a seemingly impossible crime set-up.
Canadian cop Mike Ellis is on holiday in Havana with his wife. After a nasty argument, she walks out on him and he drowns his sorrow in drink in Hemingway’s favourite bar. Next morning, the body of a young boy is found in the sea and Ellis is accused of paedophilia and murder. At first we are entirely on his side, but then we too begin to question the veracity of his statements. There is an additional layer of intrigue through the vividly described character of Detective Ramirez, who can see dead people (a talent he inherited from his grandmother).
On my list of top talents to watch for 2014 and beyond.