9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2012
Beautiful, atmospheric and engaging, the Beggar's Opera gives us a different picture of Cuba, almost an insider's view. In the grand noir tradition, it also introduces a fascinating new detective - Inspector Ramirez - a man both with heart and intelligence. I really liked the contrast between the two police detectives, Mike Ellis, a Canadian vacationing in the country with his own secrets to hide and Ramirez who faces huge odds in trying to solve the crime Ellis is accused of. The story all plays out in a series of surprising twists that are entirely believable. Highly recommend this book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2012
Inspector Ricardo Ramirez can't shake the ghosts which tormented his dead grandmother. They follow him everywhere, sending mute messages from beyond the grave. How can he tell his wife and children that he suffers from the same rising dementia?
"That policeman should be more careful where he stands," Ramirez said to the dead woman sitting at the medical examiner Apiro's desk....She wore a frilly southern-belle dress and a wide white bandana....The several strands of beads around her neck revealed who she was -or rather had been--a follower of Santeria."
As a nation waits for a new era at the end of the punishing embargo, citizens walk a narrow line on ten pesos a month. The tourist hotels and destinations are off limits to Cubans unless they work there. Soap is impossible to buy, and coffee comes with sugar only. To manage to find a chicken for the Christmas holidays is a triumph.
Suddenly Ramirez's holiday goes on hold. Major Crimes has just picked up a vacationing Canadian lawman for the rape and murder of a young Cuban boy. Mike Ellis gave the kid spare change earlier. But he has no memory of the evening. His quarreling wife left him to return to Canada, and he was alone in a bar, drowning his sorrows in too much rum, wandering from the safe tourist paths into the dangerous back alleys of a raw but tempting world. Forensics from his hotel room look bleak for his case. Unless he can find an advocate, he'll soon be in jail at the mercy of hardened criminals who would welcome the chance to teach a lesson to someone on the other side of the law.
Canadians find Cuba a popular winter destination, but the pleasures of mojitos and white sands mask danger for thrill-seekers. The price is high for Cubans who would break the rules for a few US dollars: the forbidden Internet, closed doors, and a brush with the netherworld. To bribe or not to bribe? It may be the only chance, especially for an innocent.
Under the Cuban system, an indictment must come before seventy-two hours have elapsed. So everyone's under the gun. Help from Canada may be too little too late. Ellis has a high profile, but the beleaguered country is out to show the world that it isn't a mecca for sex tourism. Justice will be swift, but will it punish the right man? Does Ellis, disfigured and wounded from a previous tragic case, have an additional secret or does a monster walk unchallenged through the dark streets of the once exotic city? The horror may twist far into the past.
Talented lawyer turned author Peggy Blair places herself in the forefront of crime fiction with this stellar entry, which came close to snagging the Debut Dagger in Harrowgate. Her characters move with the surety of canny locals or the naiveté of a visitor. The plot advances with the ticking of the clock and the scenes shift seamlessly while maintaining maximum suspense. Whether strolling the crumbling streets of one of the world's most enigmatical cities or moving into the dangerous countryside, the way is smooth and sure. Grabbing life by the throat, the characters are as full-bodied as Cuban coffee and as beguiling as confiscated anejo rum. In the background, along with the ancient African gods that still colour the imagination of this cultural melting pot, is the shadowy figure of Fidel Castro, amid a thousand jokes, orchestrating for the eventual re-entry of his fabled country into the challenges of the 21st century.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2012
I could NOT put this book down. Beautifully written, with fully drawn and sympathetic characters, The Beggar's Opera takes the reader through the underbelly and back streets of Cuba. The topic is dark, the main character is quirky, and the result is a rich, complex, and fascinating novel. Read it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2012
This is the first review I've ever written but I had such a great time reading this book that I wanted to share it and encourage others to read it. THe book is fast paced with an exciting and twisty type of plot. Many unexepected turns in the book I loved the way that it worked in current political issues like the Residential School sexual abuses. A wonderful read for anyone wanting a book that will draw you in and keep you reading hard through to the final page. I can't wait for the next books in this series.The Beggar's Opera
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Peggy Blair worked as a Canadian lawyer for over thirty years, on both sides of the fence - defense and prosecution. A Christmas vacation in Havana, Cuba one year "where she watched the bored, young policemen on street corners along the Malecon, visited Hemingway's favourite bars, and learned to make a perfect mojito" provided some great inspiration for her debut fiction novel - The Beggar's Opera.
2006. Michael Ellis, a Canadian police detective from Ottawa and his wife Hillary head to Cuba for some warm weather over the Christmas vacation. Mike is also suffering some fallout from the death of his partner. There seems to be more to this story than we are intially led to believe. Their marriage suffers a blow when Hillary cuts her time short and heads back to Canada. Mike decides to drown his sorrows in one of Hemingway's favorite bars. But when he wakes up the next day, he can't find his wallet, has no idea what he did the night before.....and finds himself being arrested for the rape and murder of a young street boy. He remembers giving the begging child some pesos the day before - but murder....
Inspector Ricardo Ramirez of the Havana Major Crimes Unit has 72 hours to secure an indictment. He'll be moving fast on this horrific crime. And the possible sentence? The firing squad is still in use in Cuba. Mike's commander at home sends a female lawyer, Celia Jones, to Cuba to see if she can help Mike in any way.
The Beggar's Opera was such a great read on so many different levels. The setting itself was a major character. Blair brings to life a Cuba outside the confines of a tourist resort. A Cuba where "anything could be a crime if it served the government's objectives." Unauthorized internet access = a five year prison sentence. Renting a room to a tourist, insulting Castro, possessing tourist pesos and much, much more. Where bribery and corruption are rampant. A Cuba where the legal system is completely foreign to our Canadian sensibilities and weighs heavily in favour of the police. I think the most stunning example is the 'pre-dangerous' charge."The police could arrest almost anyone, even someone the merely considered 'likely' to be dangerous in the future." A Cuba where the poorest have access to a high degree of eduation, but children run hungry in the streets. Where soap and pencils are great treasures. I found myself running to the computer many times to follow up on a detail that Blair included. (Yes, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Fidel Castro did open Terminal Three of the international airport in Cuba)
But the star of the show is Inspector Ramirez. He is a dedicated policeman and honest (but not above sampling the rum from the evidence locker) Ghosts of murder victims have recently begun following Ramirez. As a small boy, his dying grandmother promised that "The dead will come. My gift to you, as the eldest child." His friend and the local coroner, Dr. Hector Apiro says it may be a form of progressive dementia. Dr. Apiro actually runs a very close second for character I most enjoyed.
Blair has conceived an intricate, multi layered plot that kept me guessing until the very end. I was captivated by both the main story, and the players and their lives. I'm eager to read the second in this series. It looks like Ramirez may be coming to Canada to assist on a case.
The title? The Beggar's Opera is a ballad opera and Ramirez's favourite.
"An opera about political corruption, with a lively case that included well-bred whores with impeccable manners, men disguised as women, beggars, even prisoners. It was a story of poisoned chalices, violence, and revenge; false charges, even a threatened execution. But it was also about love and loyalty and above all, friendship."
And it's also a pretty apt description of Blair's book. Definitely recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2012
The Beggar's Opera
With her debut novel 'The Beggar's Opera' Peggy Blair has woven an almost haunting novel of lives changed, and futures taken, in the setting of Havana, Cuba. Short-listed for the prestigious Crime Writer's Association Debut Dagger Award in 2009, Peggy has been thrust into the limelight and has her fans impatiently waiting for the next instalment in the Inspector Ramirez Series.
The novel centres on the brutal rape and murder of a young street boy. The crime has caught the eye of the Minister of the Interior as Fidel Castro is set on deterring sex tourists from coming to Havana, especially those into child pornography and perpetrating sex crimes against them. Castro wants the suspect to be made an example to the world by making sure he is executed immediately after conviction.
Inspector Ricardo Ramirez of the Major Crimes Unit, Havana Division, and his newly appointed subordinate Detective Rodriguez Sanchez are tasked with the investigation to prove the suspect guilty. A task that will be challenged by a Canadian attorney hell bent of finding the real perpetrator of the crime.
While Ramirez goes about his policing he is followed by ghosts of deceased victims looking for him to solve their murders. The ghosts often try to give Ramirez clues with waving gestures and cryptic symbols that he sometimes misses, making his investigation stall, while he scrambles to piece together evidence and convict the Canadian policeman; Mike Ellis, suspected of the rape and murder. As you learn more about Ellis you want to believe he is innocent. He's had a bad run of luck lately with the horrible scarring to his face he received during an arrest leading to the death of his partner, and the impending divorce from his wife. Either he's a cop gone bad, or he's being framed. It's up to Ramirez and his lawyer Celia Jones to prove which one.
Throw into the mix a transvestite prostitute, a nefarious foreigner, an achondroplasiac pathologist and you end up with a sometimes funny, sometimes heart wrenching, and downright cruel cast of characters that will have you turning the pages as quickly as you can. Smart readers can pick up on the clues Peggy leaves throughout the novel connecting the dots between the sub-stories getting a better glimpse inside the characters.
The conclusion has a surprise in store for Peggy's readers that will keep them wondering what will happen the next time they meet Inspector Ramirez. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.
Once I picked this book up I didn't want to put it down. I was riveted from the opening line until the final sentence. Grab a Mojito and find a comfy place in the sun. This is an absolute 5 star must read on everyone's list this summer
on October 1, 2013
A great book. Not only a page turner but amusing and also teaches a lot about Cuba. Also enjoyed the unexpected plot twists. I highly recommend this book.
on May 26, 2013
Ms. Blair's sleuth is a most unusually quirky detective. A man who sees ghosts that provide him with clues is a new twist to the genre. Great detail in setting, character and plot development with a small twist at the end that brings it all together. I read the author's books out of order but that in no way diminished the stories of either. I am now waiting for the next book and wondering where in the world Ms. Blair and her detective will lead us; South America or maybe Asia? I can hardly wait.
on March 14, 2013
What a great story! Set in Havana, Cuba, Inspector Ramirez and Detective Sanchez investigate the rape and murder of a young Cuban boy. Detective Mike Ellis, from Canada, happens to be holidaying there at the same time the event happens. He's arrested because his wallet and passport happened to be on the boy. Celia Jones arrives from Ottawa as his lawyer. So is Mike Ellis really guilty or is this a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time or a frame up? Is there more going on than this boy's murder?
This mystery was very well written, with twists and turns that has you guessing until the very end. I look forward to reading other works from her.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2012
The best mystery novels immerse the reader in a milieu completely, providing a cultural experience almost unnoticed beneath compelling characters and an absorbing plot. The Beggar's Opera is one such, a fascinating concretion of physically malformed and the emotionally stunted, the Communist and the capitalist, beggars and the solidly middle class, into a single story at once rationalist and deeply spiritual. The prose paints stark pictures of life in modern-day Cuba, the commonplace of violent death in Havana's morgue not excepted: 'the bright slash of his wound coiled around his neck like a red bandana.'
Then there are the Castro jokes, welcome moments of light relief amid mounting local and international pressures.
This is a Cuban police procedural with a dying Inspector Ramirez investigating the murder of a beggar child, possibly at the hands of a visiting Canadian policeman. Both Cuban and Canadian cops have hidden frailties of nerve and perception that keep the reader from gaining a secure footing during the tension-packed week of the novel. Both men are too well acquainted with horrifying crimes against children. Blair draws us into this nightmare crime''s unraveling by shifting the narration between them, twisting us to the point of claustrophobia in a jail cell with Mike. In lesser hands the introduction of a third narrator well into the book might have diluted that intensity, but here it works.
Darker and more winding than my usual summer reads, The Beggar's Opera was a never-close book that turned into an immediate re-read to let me savour more fully the layering of language and emotion. Definitely recommended.