Title: The Beggar’s Opera
Series: Inspector Ramírez Series, Book #1
By: Peggy Blair
ISBN: 0143179977 (ISBN13: 9780143179979)
Author’s Website: http://www.peggyblair.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Andra
In beautiful, crumbling Old Havana, Canadian detective Mike Ellis hopes the sun and sand will help save his troubled marriage. He doesn’t yet know that it’s dead in the water—much like the little Cuban boy last seen begging the Canadian couple for a few pesos on the world famous Malecón. For Inspector Ricardo Ramírez, head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police, finding his prime suspect isn’t a problem—Cuban law is. He has only seventy-two hours to secure an indictment and prevent a vicious killer from leaving the island. But Ramírez also has his own troubles to worry about. He’s dying of the same dementia that killed his grandmother, an incurable disease that makes him see the ghosts of victims of unsolved murders. As he races against time, the dead haunt his every step.
In my quest for finding noteworthy Canadian mystery authors, I have found a gem. Peggy Blair, in her first title in the Inspector Ramírez Series, The Beggar’s Opera, has created a captivating Cuba-set mystery with a cast of entertaining and engaging characters.
I found the book well paced, with numerous twists and turns which kept me guessing throughout. The intertwining of many different story lines was well done. I found the sharing of Cuban culture, history and way of life intriguing. The descriptions of Old Havana and the Cuban countryside were so comprehensive that I could visualize being there. I even felt like I was at the alleyways where Santeria ceremonies are conducted (the voodoo equivalent in Cuba).
We begin (in the prologue) with Ramírez a young boy saying goodbye to his dying grandmother. In her dying breaths she says:
“The dead will come,” she rasped. “My gift to you, as the eldest child.” He barely recognized her voice. She hadn’t spoken for days…….” Messengers from the other side. Eshu, the orisha, will send them to help you so you can help them. You will be a policeman, Ricky. I see it in your future. Treat them with respect, as they will you. But never forget this: Eshu is a trickster.”
That certainly had me intrigued. How will the dead come to Ramírez ? And how will this reciprocal help appear? So now I am hooked. Though I must say, it did take me a wee bit to get used to the manifestations.
On the first pages we are introduced to some of the most interesting characters of the book. Naturally, Ramírez but also Apiro – the pathologist on call to the Havana Major Crimes Unit. As we go on to later learn, Apiro has achondroplasia, which is a form of short-limbed dwarfism. Apiro has adapted his way of working in the morgue to account for his condition. Apiro’s mind is brilliant and he and Ramírez have found mutual respect with one another in their skills for performing their respective jobs.
The discovery of the body of a young boy in the water is disturbing. The evidence, such that it is, points to a Canadian tourist as the prime suspect for the rape and murder of this young boy. Mike Ellis, on vacation with his wife and away from his police job in Ottawa is that suspect. Ramírez halls in Ellis and has seventy-two hours in which to secure an indictment. A lot happens in those seventy-two hours. Mike uses his one call to phone his boss, O’Malley, back in Ottawa asking for help. O’Malley promptly sends Celia Jones, the departmental lawyer to provide support for Mike and possibly (?) help with the investigation. From here they mystery begins to deepen, twist and turn. As the cast of characters grew, so did the intensity and intrigue.
The part of the story which was really difficult to read and comprehend was the introduction of the abuse (physically and emotionally) of young boys sent to schools away from their homes and families. How people can behave that way to the youth is just astounding. Such a close tie in with the residential school’s in Canada. Had me just shaking my head with a heavy heart.
In the end, well….I shall leave that for you to find out. Suffice it to say, the bumpy ride was well worth it, though it did leave me emotionally drained.
Having read this book, I am now poised to continue on with the series (and I have!). I cannot wait to see what is next for Ramirez, Ellis, O’Malley and Apiro in the second installment of the Inspector Ramírez series, The Poisoned Pawn. Will they all be a part of the new mystery? Only time will tell. All I can say is: if you like mysteries with many twists as well as history thrown in, then pick up this first book in the Inspector Ramírez series and enjoy the ride yourself.