Publication date: 01 July 2013
First Line - "Ricky Ramirez's parents stood on the other side of the door, speaking in hushed tones with the doctors."
"In beautiful, crumbling Old Havana, Canadian detective Mike Ellis hopes the sun and sand will help save his troubled marriage. He doesn't yet know that it's dead in the water - much like the little Cuban boy last seen begging the Canadian couple for a few pesos. For Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police, finding his prime suspect isn't a problem - Cuban law is. He has only seventy-two hours to secure an indictment and prevent a vicious killer from leaving the island. But Ramirez has his own troubles. He's dying of the same dementia that killed his grandmother, an incurable disease that makes him see the ghosts of victims of unsolved murders. As he races against time, the dead haunt his every step."
Book #1 in the Inspector Ramirez Mystery series.
I don't read many crime thrillers but I was drawn to this one for two reasons. The first is pretty shallow but I really, really love this cover and it drew me in. I just think it's one of the best covers I've seen in a long time. The second reason was the mention in the blurb that the main character, Inspector Ramirez, can see the ghosts of unsolved murder victims. I'm in!
The fact that it's a police procedural set in Cuba was also a draw for me. I know not the first thing about Cuba so thought it would be an interesting move away from the usual US/UK crime settings. It was an eye opener as to Cuban politics, everyday living and laws. It's not a place I've ever considered visiting but I definitely wouldn't want to travel there now. It sounds like a scary place. What I wasn't aware of (and had I known before starting it I would never have picked it to read) was that the murder victim is a little Cuban boy and that child abuse, rape and pedophilia are strong themes. I mention this in case it's a deciding factor for anyone else but I can also confirm that those themes are dealt with on an 'after the fact' basis and are not dwelt on unnecessarily.
As to the story itself... I liked it a lot. Interesting, exciting, puzzling all the things you'd expect from a crime thriller. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to like Inspector Ramirez though. He's the main character and I'll be honest, it took me almost 3/4 of the book to warm to him and even now I'm still not 100% sure about him... I suppose it comes with the territory but he just seemed so blinkered and judgmental and sure of himself. I think he might take a bit of time to grow on me. All the other characters came alive for me and there was more to them than met the eye. I liked the setting, I liked the twists and turns and even though I guessed at the twist at the end I liked that too. I thought it was a great story. Perhaps parts of the ending were a little unbelievable but easy to overlook when the story was so strong.
What disappointed me most though was the lack of 'ghosts of unsolved murder victims'. Since they were mentioned in the synopsis I had thought that they'd play a bigger role but really they were few and far between and in the background mostly. I'd have liked more involvement from them. They were interesting and so was the Inspector's interaction with them...or would have been if it was given more page time. I'm hopeful that maybe that side of things will take off a bit more in the next book(s) which I will definitely read. I've got the next Inspector Ramirez mystery all lined up.
A note of warning - 'Midnight in Havana' is a renamed edition of 'Beggar's Opera' which has been republished for the UK market. Given a new name and new cover but the same book nevertheless. I very nearly bought that other one thinking it was a different book. It's not mentioned in the blurb anywhere (at time of writing) so thought it worth noting.