I’m a fan of Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series, as well as a fan of art mysteries, so when I learned that the third instalment in the series involved an art world crime (the marketing campaign included an art exhibition inspired by passages from the book), well, colour me intrigued!
Hungry Ghosts was more about a series of murders of prostitutes than about the art world crime, but it still definitely did not disappoint. Having established her world building in the first two titles, Blair now seemed freed up to focus on the intricacies of her mysteries. The characters fit in more naturally with each other than before, and the dual mysteries investigated by Ramirez and Canadian First Nations detective Charlie Pike seemed more seamlessly integrated than before.
That being said, the strength of Blair’s mysteries has rarely been about the actual case so much as it was about the political commentary these cases brought forth, both about Cuba and Canada. I particularly love how Charlie Pike was invited on a case, literally as a token First Nations representative — his experience as a detective was less valuable to his colleagues in this case than his background. This to me highlights the tense relations that still exist between the Canadian government and First Nation tribes, and while Ramirez and his Cuban mysteries are presumably the focal point of this series, Blair’s interest in and passion for First Nations issues in Canada comes through loud and clear, particularly in this story. Part of me wonders if she’ll ever do a spinoff story just on Charlie Pike, a full novel to explore the intricacies of Canadian First Nations politics.
I also love how Ramirez’s gift for speaking to the dead has become almost second nature in this story — it is still mentioned as a plot device, but much like it must be for Ramirez, it becomes here simply another tool in his arsenal rather than a defining characteristic. I love how his concerns over it tie in to his family history — bits like this flesh him out even more as a character, and make him more real.
Finally, I absolutely love the character of Hector Apiro. He is a wisecracking pathologist with dwarfism who, when asked what he’d want people to say at his funeral, quipped, “I’d like someone to lean over my casket and shout, ‘Oh my God, he’s alive!'” The mystery in this book is personal for Apiro, because of his relationship with a prostitute named Maria. Their love and affection for each other shines through, and they have some wonderful scenes of tenderness that belie the usual tough shell Apiro presents at his autopsies.
The mysteries themselves were resolved fairly neatly, and while part of me wished the art mystery was given a bit more prominence, I was mostly just glad to spend time once again with Blair’s characters.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.