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VINE VOICEon 14 September 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"the dead will come" so said Inspector Ramirez's grandmother to him when she was dying.

Ricardo Ramirez was 9 years old at the time, now he is a police inspector in Havana & he sees dead people!

Mike Ellis is a Canadian detective on holiday in Havana with his wife....It is the Christmas Holidays...They meet a Cuban boy who is begging, Ellis gives him some pesos ... later the boy is found dead in the harbour.

2 other main characters are - Hector Apiro - the pathologist in the Major Crimes Unit - & - Celia Jones - a Canadian lawyer.

All the characters have their own problems & the shortages in Cuba are just as acute in the police department as everywhere else.

I just loved this book it was gripping and has passion, corruption & danger all mixed in with the mystery of the boy's death. It was so interesting to read especially with the differences in Cuban & Canadian law - (and UK law).

The author is a Canadian lawyer and this book is the first in a series - I have noted that the second book - The Poisoned Pawn - will be published in February 2014 - I cannot wait to read it.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the first Inspector Ricardo Ramirez mystery and it begins with the death of his grandmother, when he is only nine years old. She passes to him, "my gift to you, as the eldest child." Her gift is the ability to see the dead and, indeed, as the Inspector in charge of the Havana Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police, Ramirez is constantly followed by the victims of the crimes he is investigating. As well as the dead, Ramirez is aided by his subordinate, Detective Rodriquez Sanchez and pathologist, Hector Apiro.

It is Christmas Eve, 2006, and Mike and Hillary Ellis are on holiday. Mike Ellis is a detective from Canada, who recently suffered a violent facial injury, while his partner was killed. However, the holiday which should have helped heal him, has resulted in his marriage crumbling in recrimination and anger. Hillary hates Cuba and, after a major argument, heads home leaving Mike Ellis alone. When a young boy, seen begging from the couple the day before, is found murdered, Ellis is the prime suspect. In Cuba he has no legal rights and Ramirez is under pressure to complete the investigation within a strict timeline. Can Canadian lawer, Celia Jones, save him from the firing squad?

This is an assured and well written debut. If you enjoy crime stories set in unusual locations, then you will enjoy this. I had only a very sketchy idea of what Cuba is like, having never visited the country. Ramirez is hampered, in both his professional and personal life, by shortages - there are few toys, little petrol, meat, soap, pencils or even crime scene tape available. At one point, there is no possibility of checking something as there are no batteries for the calculator and the internet is banned. The author cleverly weaves her story and location together, with a well written plot and great characters. Readers, just be aware that in the US, this book was titled, "The Beggar's Opera", so be careful you don't buy the same book twice. I look forward to reading on in this series and am pleased to see that there is a sequel available for pre-order The Poisoned Pawn (Inspector Ramirez Novel).
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on 27 July 2013
I really enjoyed reading this and wish the author well. I really feared for the life of poor Mike and wondered how on earth they were going to get him off the clearly fabricated case.
My one criticism is there was too much explanation at the end which, although well written and I read it, was a mark of inexperience I think. Also the epilogue, while an interesting twist, made me think back over the case and made one or two things unravel a bit. Nevertheless I'm looking forward to the next book. Hurry up with the writing of it, Peggy!
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This opens with the young future Cuban Police Inspector Ricardo Ramirez being blessed - or cursed - by his grandmother on her deathbed, with the ability to see ghosts.
Murder victims - mute and visible only to Ramirez - accompany him as he goes about his business.
His grandmother's dementia was responsible for her "visions" and Ramirez fears he has inherited it. He bears this burden alone, unwilling to share it with anyone, even his beloved wife.
The author takes her time setting the scene; the premise is interesting and she slips in details of the privations suffered by the ordinary Cuban people as a result of American foreign policy. It is clear where her sympathies lie.
There is no humour in this story - nothing alleviates the grinding poverty of the people or the vast differences between their lives and the affluence of the tourists'. To what lengths, therefore, will the children go to earn a few pesos to support their families? This is the reason why Ramirez is investigating the brutal rape and murder of a little Cuban boy, who has been procured for sex.
Having taken her time to set the scene, the author rapidly speeds up the plot progression after the accused's lawyer arrives in Cuba. From this point, things are rushed - as if the author is anxious to realise the denouement; this is a shame and - in my opinion - the book suffers for it.
This is an easy read; the publisher's claims that this is a "literary" crime novel are exaggerated. This is Peggy Blair's debut novel though, and she has talent. I hope she isn't persuaded to speed up production in the hope of writing a bestseller. That would be a real shame.
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VINE VOICEon 6 July 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found this one a cracker of a story line by a new to me author Peggy Blair a Canadian. It's an Inspector Ramirez Mystery, New to me and I would suppose a continuing series. I found that I had to get back to it and given the time I would have finished it in one session. It is set in Old Havana on Cuba, I know a little about the Island and the feeling of the story was just right. A Canadian detective and his wife set the scene and very quickly we find the story builds with intrigue and more intrigue, The inspector has a ghostly figure following him and I was quite puzzled by this at first, but all will be explained. The story line is fairly straight forward in the first third and with questions to be answered, but as you carry on it builds up nicely. There are some really nice twists and turns, great story line and frankly I look forward to the next one by the same author. I would be surprised if you didn't like this, No guns blazing and shoot outs, just a good story well presented, certainly one of the best for me books I've had recently.
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VINE VOICEon 27 July 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Having read my way through various Scandinavian and Icelandic crime novels I've been looking for something different and not just a straight up American detective novel.

This debut novel offered something different, one its set in Cuba and 2 the lead detective can "see" the victims as he investigates the crimes. You can get an idea on the story from the description so I won't add to that here, but this is well written and a quick exciting read.

The author is Canadian and so is one of the principal characters but the vision of Cuba is honest and without any romantic view on the place, poverty and what that brings is the order of the day here.

The start of an interesting series.
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on 5 July 2013
This is a detective novel set in Havana around 2006. The author seems to understand Cuban politics and life, plus international politics and, of course, detective work; all this makes for a very believable read, without labouring any points (Steig Larson!). Wouldn't make you want to visit Cuba as a tourist but evokes a great sense of the place and the shock of a foreigner caught up in it. The characters, especially Detective Ramirez and Apiro, really came to life and I was constantly turning pages to find the next move. And the opening is one of the best I have ever read! All in all, a great book and I will be ordering the next one as soon as it is due.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 20 September 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Set in Cuba, Inspector Ramirez has all the usual challenges of an investigating policeman to contend with as well as additional issues including political interference as well as a dire shortage of resources ranging from shortage of fuel for police vehicles to a lack of pencils! However he has some unusual assistance in the form of apparitions which only he can see, an ability he appears to have inherited from his dead grandmother. However they largely seem superfluous to his ability to solve cases as he struggles to understand what they are trying to tell him.

This time around Ramirez has a case involving a dead youth who has apparently been sexually assaulted. A Canadian tourist, Mike Ellis, comes under suspicion and the evidence appears damning. On conviction, a death penalty is highly likely. In Ellis' corner is Celia Jones, a Canadian lawyer who carries out her own investigation rather more thoroughly than the Cuban police manage and, although this is billed as an Inspector Ramirez Mystery it could equally well be a Celia Jones Mystery since her part of this story is at least as significant as Ramirez's.

It is fair to say I enjoyed the first part of the book when Jones is in a race to save Ellis from the firing squad or, equally potentially fatal, a Cuban prison than the latter part. Later things become more complicated, for my taste there are unlikely coincidences and the result does not hang together so well. However for all that this is a competent and interesting police procedural in an unusual setting. I would certainly not be averse to reading more of Ramirez' exploits.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this book (previously published as The Beggar's Opera) Peggy Blair transports us to the steamy underworld of Havana, Cuba. Canadian Detective Mike Ellis, on holiday in Cuba with his wife, find's himself arrested for the rape and murder of a small boy. This is hours after his wife walks out on him. Inspector Ricardo Ramirez of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police is in charge of the investigation. Ramirez is no ordinary detective as he has a succession of ghosts following him around and vying for his attention. Rather than detracting from the story this blends in beautifully as it gives some insight into the Cuban psyche. This is a land where catholicism and African mysticism meet.

When I say, Blair transports you to Cuba, I mean you can picture yourself there. The surroundings, sounds, smell and very heart of Havana are portrayed through the writing. I have been to Cuba and I can sure you Blair has everything spot on. The very cynicism of the characters gives a very real depth to the lives of the characters, and how difficult life can be for the ordinary man and woman in the street. This book not only excels in its depiction of the place but also in the structure and flow of the plot. The storyline is strong with enough twists, turns and plot changes to move it along at a swift pace. Even when you think all has been revealed the surprises keep coming and everything is tied up clearly and neatly.

I found myself reading this long into the night and grabbing it first thing in the morning when I woke up. If you like a well written mystery, set in unusual surroundings then you will thoroughly enjoy this book. I would not hesitate to recommend it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 December 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Book #1 in the Inspector Ramirez Mystery series.

I don't read many crime thrillers but I was drawn to this one for two reasons. The first is pretty shallow but I really, really love this cover and it drew me in. I just think it's one of the best covers I've seen in a long time. The second reason was the mention in the blurb that the main character, Inspector Ramirez, can see the ghosts of unsolved murder victims. I'm in!

The fact that it's a police procedural set in Cuba was also a draw for me. I know not the first thing about Cuba so thought it would be an interesting move away from the usual US/UK crime settings. It was an eye opener as to Cuban politics, everyday living and laws. It's not a place I've ever considered visiting but I definitely wouldn't want to travel there now. It sounds like a scary place. What I wasn't aware of (and had I known before starting it I would never have picked it to read) was that the murder victim is a little Cuban boy and that child abuse, rape and pedophilia are strong themes. I mention this in case it's a deciding factor for anyone else but I can also confirm that those themes are dealt with on an 'after the fact' basis and are not dwelt on unnecessarily.

As to the story itself... I liked it a lot. Interesting, exciting, puzzling all the things you'd expect from a crime thriller. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to like Inspector Ramirez though. He's the main character and I'll be honest, it took me almost 3/4 of the book to warm to him and even now I'm still not 100% sure about him... I suppose it comes with the territory but he just seemed so blinkered and judgmental and sure of himself. I think he might take a bit of time to grow on me. All the other characters came alive for me and there was more to them than met the eye. I liked the setting, I liked the twists and turns and even though I guessed at the twist at the end I liked that too. I thought it was a great story. Perhaps parts of the ending were a little unbelievable but easy to overlook when the story was so strong.

What disappointed me most though was the lack of 'ghosts of unsolved murder victims'. Since they were mentioned in the synopsis I had thought that they'd play a bigger role but really they were few and far between and in the background mostly. I'd have liked more involvement from them, they were interesting and so was the Inspector's interaction with them..or would have been if it was given more page time. I'm hopeful that maybe that side of things will take off a bit more in the next book(s) which I will definitely read. I've got the next Inspector Ramirez mystery all lined up (roll on Feb 2014).

A note of warning - 'Midnight in Havana' is a renamed edition of 'Beggar's Opera' which has been republished for the UK market. Given a new name and new cover but the same book nevertheless. I very nearly bought that other one thinking it was a different book. It's not mentioned in the blurb anywhere (at time of writing) so thought it worth noting.
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