No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013/40: Midnight in Havana -- Peggy Blair

The dead man hovered nearby. It seemed rude to leave him waiting indefinitely. “My day off,” Ramirez whispered, his hand over the mouthpiece. The man looked disappointed but showed himself out. An honest mistake, thought Ramirez. Christmas Day, unlike Christmas Eve, was a working day in Cuba. For the first time in years, however, Ramirez had the day off. [loc. 486]

Inspector Ricardo Ramirez is head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police; his career has not been appreciably fast-tracked by his ability to see ghosts. After all, they're the messengers of Eshu, the trickster-god: and anyway, what can ghosts do that could counter Cuba's rampant poverty, deprivation and corruption?

Ramirez' latest case involves another detective: Canadian Mike Ellis, who's on holiday with his wife in a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage. Ellis' partner was killed recently, and Ellis blames himself. His wife Hilary, unable to cope with her husband's mood swings, heads back to Canada: Mike goes out to a bar, has a drink with a pretty woman and wakes up in bed some hours later, unable to remember anything -- and then finds himself under arrest for the rape and murder of a child.

Ramirez's gift -- actually a kind of curse, since he's convinced it's the same dementia that his grandmother suffered, and that she's passed to him -- is of limited help, because the dead don't speak. They are restricted to sign language, metaphor, and pointing at things. Ramirez has seventy-two hours to find the real murderer, or Ellis will go to prison for life: and frankly, his own efforts are more effective than any number of supernatural clues.

Midnight in Havana (originally published as The Beggar's Opera, which presumably accounts for the otherwise-irrelevant infodump about the opera's plot) has a great sense of atmosphere, albeit occasionally reading like a tourist guide. ("Jones passed the San Carlos y San Ambrosio seminary, a beautiful stone building constructed by Jesuits in the mid-1800s. Behind it, on the other side of the harbour, stood the Castillo, a Spanish fortress built in 1589 to guard the entrance to Havana Bay." [loc 2198]) Several of the characters are interesting, but I didn't find any of them especially engaging. And the crime at the heart of the novel is vile, but somehow impersonal: probably for the best, but it left a vacuum.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:25 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to review the book! Cheers, Peggy