Peggy Blair’s first novel The Beggar’s Opera knocked my socks off. In fact, after a lengthy period of duty reads I remember stating publicly on twitter that her novel gave me back my will to read again. So, when I noted with pleasure that she had breathed life back into several of her colourful characters from that first book and dropped them squarely into another thriller, well I was extremely anxious to get my hands on it.
Happy to note Peggy Blair is no one hit wonder. Lucky for me, because I absolutely adore her ragtag circus group of misfit main characters who unravel homicides against the decaying and magnificent backdrop of historical Cuba. The Poisoned Pawn is a more than worthy sequel to the book I called one of my top five reads of 2012.
The Poisoned Pawn is Peggy Blair’s second novel featuring Inspector Ricardo Ramirez. Ramirez is hands down one of my favourite literary characters of the last decade. He speaks to me and, is rich in his motivations and psychological drive. I believe every step he takes and every inner thought process the author details coming from him. He is three dimensional, flawed and incredibly human. Rich characters are a specialty for Blair and atmosphere is her canvas, which she paints stunningly
This sequel starts once again with a bang, a woman has died on a plane ride back to Cuba. Her illness manifests the moment she leaves Cuba and by landing she has expired mysteriously. It’s the holidays and the body is revealed to be that of Hillary Ellis, wife to Mike Ellis, the detective accused of killing a Cuban boy in The Beggar’s Opera. The Poisoned Pawn picks up essentially where The Beggar’s Opera left off and moves interestingly into Ottawa revealing a new character, Detective Pike, a novelty because of his aboriginal status. Pike is, we soon learn, the only aboriginal detective in Canada. Soon the plot twists into the devastating theme of residential schools and crimes that took place against aboriginal children. Meanwhile women are dying of some mysterious poisoning in Cuba.
Ramirez struggles again in this novel with ghosts, literally haunted by his victims and tortured by the reality of corruption in Cuba. Blair weaves the tiniest hints of magic realism throughout The Poisoned Pawn in a way that adds to character and plot and builds intrigue. The Poisoned Pawn is a very worthy sequel to a magnificent debut. It secures Peggy Blair’s spot in the league of top notch Canadian authors. I look forward to following her career for many more years.
Peggy Blair was a lawyer for 30 years specializing in aboriginal affairs. She lives in Ottawa. This is her second novel. The Beggar’s Opera won the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize Reader’s Choice Contest and was shortlisted for the Crime Writer’s Association Debut Daggar Award.
The Poisoned Pawn, by Peggy Blair, published by Penguin Books, 2103, $22.00, softcover Toronto, 318 pages. This one gets $$$$ out of $$$$$.