“Wabigoon shook his head. “Those girls, hitchhiking. No choice, eh? The buses don’t run up north anymore. You hear that old joke about the Anishnabe woman hitchhiking? She gets into a truck and there’s a big bottle of booze in the passenger seat. ‘Got that for my old man’ the driver says. And the Anishnabe woman says, ‘Yeah? Good trade.’ “
You’ve heard the stories about how people act a little more carnal, a tad more primitive, more batty during the rise of a full moon. Well what happens to a person that was once a part of the Wolf Clan of the Ojibway First Nation reserve? Do you sink a little more into your soul and act more on your instinct than usual? Or are you that far removed that natural qualities have been dulled to a point of no reaction? That’s what Detective Charlie Pike is trying to figure out as he travels back home to Northern Ontario to investigate the murder of a young woman that has all the markings of a crime committed by a notorious serial killer called The Highway Strangler. The year is 2007, the place Havana, Cuba. A country comprised of communism, trade embargo’s, political dissidents, bureaucracy, and a serial killer? Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, Head of the Major Crimes unit for the Cuban National Revolutionary Police is dealing with a case of vandalism that has the local as well as the Italian art community in an uproar. Estranged from his family due to political unrest, Ricardo will have to wade through the waters of personal and professional turmoil in order to solve a series of what he thinks are connected crimes and maintain his sanity as he deals with some surreal spectral presences.
“The dead man pointed to his throat and clutched his stomach. Ramirez found the performance a bit melodramatic, although being critical of a ghost’s acting ability was like arguing with the content of a speech delivered by a dog. He turned his eyes back to Gatti.”
I know for me, whenever I read the term supernatural, I tend to think of transported apparitions moving at the speed of light making ghostly sounds lurking at every turn you make. This gets rather old and I tend to steer clear of these types of books. Given the publisher and the sub genres associated with this story I thought I would give this one a chance. The supernatural aspects of this book reminded me very much of the way David Lynch handles these types of situations. There were beautiful young women with caramel complexion’s who would not say a word, kind of had the appearance of looking dead, but at a moment’s notice they were full of gesticulations. You know you can tell a lip-syncher on live television when they are being over reactionary to the sound or beat of the music, well that’s kind of how the women in Hungry Ghosts were acting. Personally I was waiting for them to join together, smoke some cigarettes, snap their fingers and dance a choreographed number of Little Eva’s The Loco-Motion. Anyway, I really enjoyed the way the author utilized the otherworldly elements in this book. She made them seem very believable in relation to certain religions such as Taoism and certain Native Canadian creed such as Ojibway. They were also not an overwhelming aspect of the story, mainly just a complementary piece to Ricardo Ramirez’s personal and professional struggles.
“The traditional people believe that on the journey to the land of souls, the spirit had set guides. There’s a blue light that glows to show the way, and there’s the sound of the river. You’re supposed to keep the blue light in front of you and the river to your left, so you can stay on a straight path and not get tempted to go astray.”
There are quite a few story lines going on throughout this novel. You are first introduced to Ricardo Ramirez and his investigation of a murdered man on a beach that was found by two children in Havana, Cuba. Initial observations suggest being washed ashore due to an accidental drowning after no signs of foul play are found. Secondarily we are introduced to Ottawa, Ontario native and lawyer for the Rideau Regional Police Department Celia Jones as she is working hard to expedite the adoption process of a three-year-old little girl named Beatriz. The fact that Beatriz is an orphaned Cuban resident is in itself putting up quite a few barriers beyond the typical adoption process. Lastly, we slowly learn about the conflicts surrounding the Aboriginal people in Ottawa and the Provincial and Federal government. Local Ojibway, former prisoner and current police officer and Detective Charlie Pike has volunteered his time during a time where there are no willing participants to cross enemy lines, and travel to a reserve to investigate the recent deaths of local prostitutes. Although there may be obvious differences, across hemispheres there are circumstances that bind us all whether we like it or not; and politics and murder is just the tip of the iceberg.
“During the Special Period, the government had imposed strict rationing. Castro called it the ‘opcíon zero,’ or zero option. Cubans called it ‘nada de nada, nananina,’ meaning ‘zero everything.’ Hot dogs became ‘chicken dogs’ then ‘chicken-less dogs’. Mangoes and pineapples disappeared altogether. Guava bars were made from oranges. Things had got better in the past several years. But even the black market rarely carried apples.
Nylons, apples, spray paint. Ramirez was starting to wonder if there was another black market he didn’t know about. The dead woman caught Ramirez’s eye and shook her head.”
This is the type of mystery novel that I like to read. There are many storylines that relate to each other in one way or another and very challenging for the reader. This is not a streamlined suspense that you can cozy up on the couch, this is one that demands concentration. With all of the different measures that the author took in writing a novel like this, she opens herself up to certain flaws being shown, because writing a story like this, it is hard to be perfect. With all of the characters and varying plot points, I believe it would have been more effective to stay with a certain narrative longer than it did. Jumping from one story to another after devoting a few short chapters wasn’t enough for me. The story also starts with a complicated adoption process between a woman and a nation. It is made to believe that this is important story in the book, but in retrospect it is merely a machination used to showcase the political intrigue to follow. Overall, this is a very solid mystery novel, I liked the list of ingredients and the recipe that the author had, I believe that execution needed to be a bit tighter. All in all it was a very good read.
” ‘ Don’t be too anxious Fernando. You have to make sure you find the right person. You don’t want to take chances, believe me. Otherwise, you could end up living with someone you don’t like. At least you get along with your parents.’
Seventy percent of Cuban marriages ended in divorce, but half of all divorced couples were forced to live together anyway because of the housing shortages.”