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Write On Ottawa: Hungry Ghosts is a thoughtful novel

By Alejandro Bustos on September 4, 2015

Peggy Blair is one of my favourite authors from the National Capital Region.

How much do I like her?  Well, since launching the Write On Ottawa series in 2013, Apartment613 has published over 100 reviews of books and comics from local artists.  If I were to create a “Top 5” list based on this group of reviews, I would certainly include Blair on my list.

After reading Hungry Ghosts, the third installment in her Insp. Ramirez detective series that is set in Cuba, I was reminded why I love her writing so much.

Fans of Blair will recognize the wonderful cast of characters that make up this great story.  There is Ricardo Ramirez, the police inspector in charge of the Havana Major Crimes Unit, who can see and speak with the ghosts of dead people.

Charlie Pike, who was introduced in book two, returns as the Canadian police detective who started out as a beat cop in Winnipeg, but is now based in Ottawa.  Readers will be captivated by his first-rate police work, as well as the window that he offers into the daily lives of aboriginal people in Canada.

We are also reacquainted with the unforgettable Hector Apiro, possibly the most interesting character ever to have been invented by an Ottawa author.  The brilliant Apiro is not only a widely regarded Cuban pathologist, he is also one of Cuba’s top plastic surgeons despite suffering from dwarfism.  His small size, however, hides a brilliant mind and tender heart.

While the first book in the series is set in Havana, and the second in Ottawa, the third is split between Cuba and Canada.  Hungry Ghosts, which was released this past summer, reads almost like two parallel novels that are connected at the end.

In one part of the new book, Insp. Ramirez begins a murder investigation in Havana after a dead prostitute is discovered.  On a First Nations reserve in Northern Ontario, meanwhile, Det. Pike investigates a similar murder of another woman.  Both policeman soon find themselves chasing after a murderer whose impact extends across international borders.

Reading Hungry Ghosts – and the series in general – is a lot of fun for several reasons.  First, it offers an interesting set of adventures that will capture the hearts of mystery fans.

Second, it provides a fascinating view into daily Cuban life.  From statistics on Cuban divorce rates, to vivid descriptions on the difficult housing situation in Havana, to intricate details on street life, this series offers a great window into the Cuban reality.

“I have a Cuban-American friend who is an academic [and] who reads the manuscripts and corrects anything I’ve gotten wrong,” says Blair in an email interview, when asked how she manages to include so much detail about the Caribbean island.

Peggy Blair

Peggy Blair

Third, the book also offers a sober look at the reality that exists with many First Nations in Canada.  As I read about the difficult living conditions in Cuba, and then saw in other chapters the tragic state of many aboriginal reserves in Canada, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who is worse off, the people of Cuba or native peoples in Canada?

“I think I would rather leave that question to the readers to ponder,” replies Blair, who worked as a lawyer for three decades, including with residential schools.

Blair was inspired to write the Insp. Ramirez mystery series after travelling to Havana in December 2006 with her daughter.  Her love for Cuba clearly shines through in her work, even though she hasn’t gone back to Caribbean island since.

“I don’t want to go back right now because . . . the books are set in 2006-2007,” says Blair.  “It’s easier for me to write them in that time setting without going back and having to filter all the changes that have taken place since then.”

Looking forward, readers can expect another installment in this great series, as Blair tells Apartment613 that she will be releasing another installment next year.

“I have another book coming out next June called Umbrella Man; it’s an espionage/thriller involving a CIA plot on Raul Castro’s life,” the Ottawa author says.

You can follow Blair on her author website, on her twitter account, and her Facebook page.

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