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Posted: February 26, 2023

Umbrella Man is an interesting read

Book Review

By Derryll White

Blair, Peggy (2016).  Umbrella Man.

The city exulted, all in flowers,

            Soon it will end: a fashion, a phase, the epoch, life.

            The mirror and sweetness of a final  dissolution.

            Let the first bombs fall without delay.     — Czeslaw Milosz, “The City”

Peggy Blair lives in Ottawa but this is her fourth novel to feature Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the major crimes unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police.  Blair is very good at demonstrating the effects on Cuba of the U.S. economic blockade.  She uses little things such as police cars with almost no gas and a coroner’s office with no camera film to indicate just how hard it is to undertake what we consider ordinary tasks.

Blair focuses on the political complexities of the Cuban fact – a communist country some ninety miles off the U.S. coast.  She brings Russia into the puzzle and reveals insights into Vladimir Putin I have read nowhere else.  Inspector Ramirez is a believable character and his ability to accept the political intrigue and the beliefs of Santeria really make the plot work.  He is easy to follow in the story and his inborn sense of morality and honour is something most readers will identify with.

Murder, political intrigue and an overriding sense of human decency conspire to make ‘Umbrella Man’ an interesting read.

A murder is abstract.  You pull the trigger and after that you do not understand anything that happens.      – Jean Paul Sartre


Extracts from the novel:

POLITICAL CHANGE – A dead Castro on the other hand, thought Yaworsky, was something the U.S. government could work with.  It would force a regime change, and that would be very good for business as well as politics, which were usually one and the same thing.  Billions of dollars would flow into Havana, almost all of it from the United States.  After all, Americans had a long history of trade with Cuba, one that reached back long before the revolution.

HAVANA – Then, finally, they were in downtown Havana, a decaying city with all the elegance of an aging starlet.  Facades were all that were left, in some cases, of once-famous structures.  Children played on a pile of rubble that marked a derrumbe, a collapsed building.  Pieces of wood propped up sagging balconies.  Laundry hung across the front of apartments that no longer had outside walls.  People carried on their business on these open stages, as if no one could see them.

CUBAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS – “The Americans retaliated by putting up an electronic tickertape along the side of the Swiss embassy to run anti-Castro propaganda.”

The tickertape was smuggled into Cuba by diplomatic pouch.  That had annoyed Fidel Castro no end.  “When the Americans refused to take it down, Castro put billboards up all over Havana depicting George Bush as a vampire and a Nazi.  Anyway, that’s the reason why there are so many flagpoles in this plaza – one hundred and seventy-five of them.  Each one is supposed to represent a victim of American repression.  But they’re really meant to block the view of the American tickertape.”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at

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