I've been escaping reality -- mostly that of torrid heat -- by reading mysteries during the past week or so. Generally, the Brits, do murder mysteries the best, or at least their environment seems better suited for that sort of plot. This is so true that some American mystery writers, such as Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes, set their plots on the other side of the pond. Of course, this is not to say that I never read American mysteries and that they are never good reads.
So .... I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked up Peggy Blair's, The Beggar's Opera. Mind you that's a bit of a lie since I had already read the sequel, The Poisoned Pawn, but the general idea still holds. In fact, I been sufficiently intrigued with Pawn to search out Opera.
Her detective protagonist is Inspector Ramirez of Havana. Yes, the book is set in Cuba. Therefore, one learns a fair amount of the politics culture and living conditions of the country while following the plot. Blair is also a Canadian living in my hometown of Ottawa, so there is a significant Canadian/Ottawa connection in both books. In point of fact, it is an Ottawa detective who is charged with murder in Cuba, and it is an Ottawa lawyer who flies to Cuba and helps Ramirez to solve the case. The second book also features a trip to Ottawa by Ramirez in the middle of a January freeze.
Not only is it fascinating to learn about Cuba, but Ramirez is enticing in his own right, for he is a man who is visited by the ghosts of the people whose cases that he is trying to solve. Are the ghosts real or is he experiencing disease-wrought hallucinations? And will we ever know the answer for sure.
Not only is the character a clever departure from the typical detective protagonist, but so are many twists and turns in the narrative. Some mysteries are pretty straight-ahead affairs, but this reader was frequently surprised by her unfolding of events.
Although this novel is complete in itself, Blair set it up so that the next episode, The Poisoned Pawn, occurs within a week of the first with a most definite tie-in with The Beggar's Opera.
Try it, if you are a fan this genre and would like to read a refreshingly different setting and approach. Like me, you will probably hope to see more of Inspector Ramirez in the future.
Note: If you wish to read a real review from a real critic at a real newspaper, just click this link. Also, here is a link to the book on the American version of Amazon.