Lou Allin's Reviews > The Beggar's Opera

The Beggar's Opera by Peggy Blair
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's review
Dec 18, 2011

it was amazing
Read in December, 2011

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.
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