THE POISONED PAWN by Peggy Blair

THE POISONED PAWN
Peggy Blair
Pintail press
Pub Date:  February 25, 2014

Canadian police detective Mike Ellis finally returns home from his disastrous trip to Old Havana only to discover that his nightmare isn’t yet over. It seems his estranged wife Hillary, who took the opportunity to leave both Mike and Cuba on Christmas Eve, died on her way back to Ottawa, the apparent victim of foul play, and the police like Mike for her murder.

Cuban police inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit, has been dispatched to Canada as part of an investigation into a child pornography ring with ties to priests and politicians the world over. He’s been charged with bringing a suspect back to Cuba to stand trial – and he’s also in possession of some information about Mike that could help the Canadian police make their case.

Once again, these two men find themselves sharing an orbit. Are their fates inextricably linked, or are Mike Ellis and Ricardo Ramirez both just pawns in the same game?

THE POISONED PAWN is the second of author Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez novels. It’s a direct sequel to Blair’s debut and picks up almost immediately where THE BEGGAR’S OPERA left off, so I do NOT recommend cracking the cover on this book without first having read its predecessor; not only will doing so completely spoil the plot of The Beggar’s Opera, but as Blair doesn’t waste time rehashing old events or reintroducing old characters, you’ll spent the duration of The Poisoned Pawn in a constant state of confusion.

That said, if you enjoyed The Beggar’s Opera, you’re in for a treat. Like the first in the Inspector Ramirez series, The Poisoned Pawn is a lot of different things. There’s an element of travelogue to it, with Blair taking her readers on tours of both Havana and Ottawa. It’s a bit of a fantasy, as Santeria figures into the plot and the cast contains both ghosts and gods. It’s a meditation on how far a good man would go to protect what he holds most dear. It’s a biting social commentary about the Catholic Church, its history of abuse, and its efforts to cover up that abuse, as well as Canadian residential schools and the cultural genocide of Canada’s indigenous population. Blair even works in a healthy dose of Cuban and Canadian history for good measure. First and foremost, though, The Poisoned Pawn is a mystery, and a twisty, turny, confounding one, at that. Time and time again, Blair makes you bite hard on a plot, a suspect, or a motive, only to then introduce a piece of information that changes the game completely. You’ll think you’ve got it all figured out, be CONVINCED that you’re right, and then realize you’re only halfway through the book and have been duped yet again.

Tired of formulaic mysteries and stereotypical airport thrillers? Take a vacation from convention with Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series.

Katrina Niidas Holm