Today I am very excited to welcome author Peggy Blair to the blog as part of our Spook-tastic Halloween event! Peggy is here to talk about her recently released adult mystery novel, The Poisoned Pawn, and share with us her favorite Halloween-y reads and spooky stories! Ooh, and also share a very delicious excerpt from her latest novel, too!
There is also a giveaway of $10 AMAZON Gift Card at the bottom of the post, so don't forget to enter!
Hi Peggy! It's a great pleasure to have you stopping by the blog today! Thanks for taking part in our Halloween Event. And a HUGE congratulations on your latest release, the second novel in the Ricardo Ramirez series, The Poisoned Pawn! How would you describe The Poisoned Pawn to those who haven't heard of it yet?
It's a story about a Cuban police inspector sent to Canada to pick up a pedophile priest. He finds out all about corruption.
Was The Poisoned Pawn any easier or harder to write than your first novel, The Beggar's Opera?
Harder! It took much longer to write, and because it's a direct sequel to The Beggar's Opera, I struggled with how much of the first story to disclose. If you read The Poisoned Pawn before The Beggar's Opera, it's a giant spoiler!
Inspector Ricardo Ramirez is haunted by the victims of his unsolved cases. How big of a part do these *ghosts* play in your books?
The ghosts are never major players (after all, they're dead; pretty hard to get an ethereal being to do much of anything), but they do try to help Ramirez solve the murders he's investigating with silent, and often misunderstood clues. In book four, Umbrella Man, he's lost his ghosts and I'm finding it a lot harder to make him as interesting and quirky without them.
Halloween is almost upon us. To me that means horror movie nights with popcorn, tricks and (hopefully) stacks of yummy treats, and, perhaps most of all, the chance to scare someone and experience the thrill of being scared myself. What does Halloween mean to you?
I love Hallowe'en! It's the one holiday where I can dress up and have fun and I don't have to cook! I used to decorate the house top to bottom, right down to having dry ice fog on the front lawn. I remember one year I had to take the candies out to the street because the little kids were terrified of coming to the front door, with all the trees done up as monsters and taped screams echoing out the windows. Not even the dog was left out (he loved his little wings). But now that my daughter is grown up, I don't do it although I still love seeing the kids in their costumes.
Do you have any real-life spooky stories to share with us? Any supernatural experiences or blood-chilling encounters?
There is an old saying that a bird in the house means a death in the house. Many years ago I came home to find a raven sitting on the window ledge in my kitchen. The doors and windows were all closed; so was the damper on the fireplace so to this day, I have no idea how it got in. I opened the door and let it out, and discovered later that a very dear friend of mine who lived just across the street had died that morning. I also had a beloved dog that I had put to sleep in the back of the car. After we'd buried him at the lake and were driving home, I could swear I could hear him panting in the back seat.
What are some of your favorite scary stories? Any favorite horror or thriller books/authors?
Love Stephen King, but I tell you, that Andrew Pyper of ours is a close second. I loved The Dead Zone by Stephen King for it's mixture of horror, morality, and imagination. I made the mistake of reading Andrew's The Guardians at the cottage one night when I was alone. Couldn't sleep for days.
What's the scariest / most memorable horror movie you ever saw?
It's an oldie, called Black Christmas. Terrified me at the time and it has a marvellous twist at the end. Saw it last year and for a movie that came out in the seventies, it's aged pretty well.
Fill in the blanks:
1) If I was magically transported back in time to the Dark Ages, I'd be killed as a witch. I can tell when big storms are coming a day or so ahead of time; I get migraines.
2) I'm a pro at real estate. Love my day job! I was a lawyer for 30 years before I went into real estate; wish I'd done it a decade sooner.
3) I'm addicted to Twitter!
4) I'm scared of … nothing I would share with you for fear of inviting it to happen (yes, I'm very superstitious!).
5) The last book I faked reading was...nothing! I either read them or I toss them out after the first few chapters.
Last question: I'm super curious and I'm sure your fans are all wondering about it too: are you working on a new book now? If so, when can we expect it? Can you share some juicy details to keep our appetites going?
The third book in the Ramirez series, Hungry Ghosts, is in editing right now. I have just finished the first draft of Umbrella Man, a spy/espionage thriller. There's a a CIA plot to kill Raul Castro at the Havana trade fair; Ramirez finds himself working with a charismatic Russian intelligence officer to stop it from happening. I have a new publisher for these two books so I'm pretty excited to see what happens with them.
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The Poisoned Pawn by Peggy Blair
Paperback, 336 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Penguin Canada
When Cuban Inspector Ricardo Ramirez is dispatched to Canada and told to bring home a priest found in possession of child pornography depicting Cuban children, he knows his job will be hard enough. But it gets worse once he’s in Ottawa, and women in Havana start dropping dead from a mysterious toxin. Worried about his family, powerless to help pathologist Hector Apiro, and faced with the threat of a Canadian travel advisory that could shut down Cuban tourism, Ramirez tries to focus on his mission. As he does, he untangles a web of deceit and depravity that extends all the way from the corridors of power in Ottawa to those of the Vatican, and uncovers a cold-blooded killer.The Poisoned Pawnis the gripping, fast-paced sequel to the award-winning, criticallyacclaimed mystery The Beggar’s Opera. Evoking the crumbling beauty of Old Havana and featuring Inspector Ramirez, a man haunted by the victims of his unsolved cases, it’s perfect for fans of Donna Leon and Martin Cruz Smith who love exotic settings and unforgettable characters.
Hector Apiro kneeled on the ground beside the body, careful to avoid the fluids pooled beside it. He lifted the bottom of the old woman’s stained cotton top to check the colour of her bloated torso. He turned his head to avoid the smell.
“Happy New Year, Dr. Apiro,” said Detective Espinoza, squatting down to speak to the small physician. “How long do you think she’s been dead?”
Fernando Espinoza had been promoted to the Havana Major Crimes Unit a day or two earlier to replace Rodriguez Sanchez.
Espinoza probably didn’t expect to hit the ground running quite so quickly, thought Apiro. But the boy handled himself well. Unlike the dozen or so policias who flooded into the dark alley as soon as the call came in, the young detective managed to keep his stomach contents down.
Apiro made a mental note to have his technicians bring some brooms and mops along with the tarps they would need to move the body. Hopefully, they had some tucked away; good mops weren’t easy to find.
“And to you, Detective Espinoza. I’m surprised you’re not out celebrating.”
“And miss the excitement? Not a chance. Besides, the parties will go on for hours.”
Apiro smiled. The young man’s good-natured enthusiasm was infectious; Ricardo had made a good choice. But then Inspector Ramirez was well-known for his skill at scavenging talent as well as supplies. “From the state of decomposition, I’d guess ten days. Maybe two weeks.”
The pathologist was finding it difficult to determine a more precise time of death. The temperature in Havana had hovered at nearly thirty degrees Celsius for most of December. The record temperatures made it a challenge to measure the body’s internal temperature accurately.
A complicating factor was the woman’s race. Skin discolouration often proved helpful in ascertaining how long someone had been dead. After a few weeks of decomposition, the exposed skin of a Caucasian victim would have turned black. But this corpse was Afro-Cuban, almost ebony to begin with. Her face, arms, and legs were the same hue as the skin beneath her clothing.
Her eye colour wasn’t helpful either. Within seventy-two hours of death, everyone’s irises changed to brown and then black.
And so it is, thought Apiro. Despite our differences, when it comes right down to it, we are all the same. Death is the great equalizer.
“I’m assuming she was stabbed to death?”
The surgeon looked at Espinoza and smiled kindly. It was a perfectly legitimate question, and the answer seemed obvious. But as a man of science, Apiro had learned to withhold judgment until he had all the facts.
“I don’t think she committed suicide, if that helps.”
The woman had an eight inch knife sticking out of her chest cavity, or what was left of it. The knife was intact; it was the body around it that was collapsing.
“Funny that no one saw the body if it’s been here that long.”
“I wouldn’t necessarily assume they didn’t,” Apiro said. He stood up painfully on his short legs, his knees sore from the concrete.
Apiro lived with achondroplasia—dwarfism. It left only his torso of normal size. His arms and legs were short, his head and hands large. Despite his condition, Apiro had once been renowned internationally as one of Cuba’s leading plastic surgeons.
Cuba had some of the best in the world, but they had to be creative given their limited resources. Performing the occasional autopsy allowed Apiro to try new methods of cutting and stitching without costly operating rooms, nursing staff, and supplies. Besides, as he often joked, plastic surgery was simpler when there was no need for anaesthetic and patients unable to complain about the results.
He snapped off his latex gloves and placed them carefully in his medical kit for sterilization and re-use.
“The people in this area have no love for the police,” he said to Espinoza. “Frankly, the only thing that surprises me is that no one took the knife.”
The occupants of the Callejón san Salida, or Blind Alley, were notoriously suspicious of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police. The feelings were mutual.
Blind Alley was supposedly constructed following spirited discussions between its creator, an artist, and the Cuban gods as to their requirements. It was an unofficial temple for the worshippers of Santería and a leading source for the marijuana and other plants used in their secret rites. But it was also a place where the screams of men and women frequently pierced the night as the orishaspurportedly travelled through them.
Espinoza nodded. “Should I have Dispatch contact Inspector Ramirez? It’s the first homicide of the year.”
“Not unless you want to be demoted back to Patrol.” Apiro grinned. He made a note of the time for his report. 0056 hours. Monday, January 1, 2007. “It’s supposed to be his day off.”
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