A reader asks: why did I change the place names in Havana for my series?

I had a comment today on the blog from a German reader who pointed out that the place names I’d used for a hotel and bar in The Beggar’s Opera were inaccurate and wondered if I’d changed them for a reason.The answer is yes.

The bar is a very famous one in Havana and its name has been trademarked by a US company that has a bar of the same name in the US. (I’ve also seen the same name on a bar in the Czech Republic.) I contacted the US corporation to see if they had any problems with me using the real name as I knew the book would be published in the US, and they said not as long as there weren’t any negative connotations to its use. If it was connected to an assault, however, that could be troublesome.

Since the fictional bar is the site for prostitution and a tourist being drugged, I decided to change it to something else to avoid potential liability. (I know we have disclaimers that say the characters and events are fictitious, but I wasn’t satisfied that was enough.)

But that also got me thinking. What if I used the real names of these locations and readers believed these kinds of things really happened at them? That really wouldn’t be fair to these wonderful establishments, so I decided that I’d rather fictionalize the names. I also renamed a famous alley in Havana as well as the hotel and the park across the street.

The reader also wondered why I referred to a “Mariachi-style” bands instead of SON, and pointed out that Mariachi bands are Mexican. Yes, that’s true. But the point of view I was writing in at the time was from a tourist who wouldn’t know the difference.

I appreciate readers’ questions and am always happy to answer! I decided to answer this question right on the blog as I’m sure other readers who have been to Cuba wondered as well.

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Updates! I’m Back!

I am finally emerging from the blue funk of all the tragedies and mishaps that bedevilled me this summer. I don’t know if any of you have ever had a relentless series of bad luck but it’s exhausting. I’d hit the point where I was almost afraid to leave the house because I didn’t know what I’d find when I got back. But slowly, things are returning to normal. Or the new normal, I guess.

I’m starting to feel my old energy coming back after a month or two of being flattened by life’s random, arbitrary gut-wrenching stomach punches. (Although my brother Mike,  who had the terrible cycling accident in August,  doesn’t think they’re random at all. He often says he thinks  that God is actually out to get us at times. It sure felt that way this summer.)

Mike is at home and walking again, and seems to be mending incredibly well from his injuries, which is great news. He had a couple of weeks where he couldn’t move his right foot, so we were all pretty worried.

Manotick Tree Farms came out on Thursday to plant  a new birch tree in the front yard to replace the big healthy one that the other tree service cut down by mistake. It may be skinny and a bit leggy but it makes me ridiculously happy to look out the second floor window and see leaves again, however sparse. She’s got a good home. I hope she thrives here.

The roof has been repaired from all the damage caused when my huge honey locust tree came down in the back yard during the storm.

(So sweet: the guy who came out to do an assessment  from Sanderson Roofing told me I looked like I needed a hug after I told him what had happened. He climbed up on the roof to take a look and a few minutes later, I heard “bam-bam-bam”. He came back down and told me they’d decided to go ahead and fix it for me while they were here rather than send out a crew. He only charged me for a one hour service call.)

I have a downspout that was crushed and an eavestrough that still needs to be replaced but nothing urgent.

With that 35 year old giant honey locust gone (you can see part of the three foot stump under the wooden teepee),  I am planting sun-loving perennials and I also had new sod installed. Making lemonade, as they say, out of lemons. (Not sure what to do about that poor little sadsack ornamental to the left of the flagstone path – the tree guys knocked off most of its branches when they were removing the honey locust. I’m inclined to give it a chance and see if it can generate new ones.)



I’ve even started picking away at a new Charlie Pike novel (if it works, it could be the start of a new series). The story has Charlie back up north to investigate a cold case that’s caused another blockade put up to block logging near Manomin Bay. While he’s there, he finds a stray dog that he takes in. There’s a local psychic involved. Does she really see ghosts or is she making things up? Still sorting that one out.

And I have sent off the historical fiction ms – THE PEACE WOMAN’S DAUGHTER – that  I’ve been slogging away at for three (yes, three) years to my freelance editor, Alex Schultz, to see if it’s finally ready to pitch. I sure hope so.

Event-wise, I will be at Chapters Gloucester today from 1 to 3, at Coles in Carlingwood on October 15th from 11-2 and at the Arnprior Library with the brilliant Bob Bickford on October 20th at 7 PM. (Bob’s debut novel, DEADLY KISS, is mind-blowing. And particularly timely, in light of what’s been going on in the US with #BlackLivesMatter. It’s based on a true story of a black boy who was lynched for daring to kiss a white girl. Lovely writing, great plot. Loved the story.)

Anyway, if you’re around those areas on any of those dates, drop by to say “hi”! Always nice to see friendly faces, particularly after a summer like this one.


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Taking a break.

I haven’t posted for a while, and I’m going to make this my last post for the foreseeable future. I had a brother pass away this summer from terminal cancer. A few days later, another brother was in a terrible cycling accident (fractured vertebrae, broken ribs, bleeding on the brain). He couldn’t move one foot for about a week, but thank God, he’s  recovering.

All of this happened while I was in the middle of the stress of renovating an investment condo, so it was pretty overwhelming.

I left for the cottage for a few days last weekend to take a breather and came back to find a huge tree in the back yard had come crashing down on the roof. I asked the tree service that came to remove it if they could trim my beloved birch in the front yard; they cut it down by mistake. Pretty heartbreaking.

So the operative word for this summer has been uncontrollable, unwelcome change, and  I’m finding it’s all a bit much. I’m at that point where I would like to just crawl into bed and wake up to find out that everything’s back to normal, but of course, that isn’t going to happen. On the book front, needless to say, the last thing I’ve had on my mind is writing, or doing book events. I’m tired.

So I’ll be suspending this blog for a few weeks or more. I  don’t have any news to report anyway. UMBRELLA MAN wasn’t the big break through novel we’d all hoped for. It’s had great reviews, but in this world,  it’s all about sales. Right now I don’t have the heart to do the marketing required to promote it. With everything on my plate at the moment, I just have to remind myself that in the big picture, it’s just a book.  I have other priorities to attend to.

I trust you all understand. Wish me luck; I could sure use some.

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Toronto Star review of Umbrella Man!

Jack Batten of the Toronto Star reviewed Umbrella Man in today’s paper, and here’s what he had to say: Nice!

review toronto star

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Nice end to a bleak week.

It’s been a rough week in many ways, and so it was nice to have a bit of good news for a change. Margaret Cannon reviewed Umbrella Man  in The Globe and Mail book section today. Here’s what she had to say:

Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series gets better with every book. An Ottawa lawyer, Blair has a real knack for using her Havana setting, with its eccentricities born of necessity, as both a charming backdrop and a real guide to plot lines. This time out, Ramirez begins with a confrontation with Mama Loa. The witch doctor says people in the sky are going to die. Ramirez isn’t convinced. There hasn’t been a murder in Havana in weeks and who cares about clouds in the sky? When the prophecy kicks in (expertly done) there’s not just one, but several connected killings and yes, the sky is there, too. But this is no local curse or a shot of voodoo. This is plain old-fashioned KGB-CIA hit man-style killing. That makes it political, not personal, and Ramirez knows he’s on borrowed time.

I think I should get her to write my blurbs from now on! Thanks, Margaret!


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Talk about support!

Pretty nice to get a note from the Ontario AG congratulating me on the Ottawa Citizen review of UMBRELLA MAN! Thanks, Yasir!


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Nice Shout-out for UMBRELLA MAN!

My pal, Wayne Arthurson, was interviewed on the Candy Palmater show on CBC Radio and gave UMBRELLA MAN a nice shout-out!

Here’s the interview: give it a listen. And pick up a copy of Wayne’s new book, BLOOD RED SUMMER. It’s going to be a winner; has already hit Edmonton and Calgary’s best seller lists. (Did I mention Wayne is Canada’s only indigenous mystery writer?)



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Best news ever! Umbrella Man’s a Bestseller!


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