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Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

Dead Politician Society: A Clare Vengel Undercover Novel by Robin Spano
ISBN 1550229427 (ISBN13 9781550229424), ECW Press ☞ [buy the book]

From the back:

The mayor falls down dead in the middle of a speech, and a university secret society promptly claims credit for the murder.

Clare Vengel is given her first undercover assignment: to pose as a student and penetrate the society. She’s a mechanic in her spare time, and thinks book smarts are for people who can’t handle the real world. Instead of infiltrating the club, she alienates a popular professor, and quickly loses the respect of police superiors.

Another politician is killed, and Clare is horrified that student idealism could be ramped up to the point of murder. She gets into gear, forging friendships with students, and a romantic involvement with a key suspect.

When two more politicians die, Clare knows that the murderer she has to unmask is someone she has come to consider a friend. She only hopes that the friend doesn’t unmask her first.

I've never read a single Nancy Drew book in my puny 20-year existence, a fact which has been a cause for ridicule by one of the guys I used to date (he was big on The Hardy Boys, so it follows that he date girls who grew up reading Nancy Drew - but I was an exception, sorta). All I know is that she was this chick who solved crimes with coiffed hair. So to compare Clare Vengel - the protagonist of Robin Spano's first novel - to Nancy Drew would probably be a bit off, maybe even disappointing to the former. Clare Vengel is by all means a better modern-day version of the classic female detective.

Set in modern-day Canada, Clare is your typical rookie cop: quick to react, brash, and gets drunk on the weekend. A politician dies of poisoning, a mysterious obituary is emailed to the local newspaper, a secret society  in a university becomes the prime suspect for the murder, and Clare is the only one young enough to pull off the college girl cover in order to infiltrate it. She's given the case, one that could help her earn respect in the industry. Crude but determined, she sets off to figure out who's killing the politicians and why.

What kept me reading: The book is written from various points of views, set in chapters of sorts, which helped for the fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat reading. A multiple POV writing style might sound confusing, but the characters are so well-formed that they each stand out in their own way. The multiple POVs also made for early assumptions as to "who did it" - a couple of pages in and I was already pointing fingers, and then kept changing my opinion as I read on. By being able to read the story from the different views of the characters, you start to root for some and hate others, and be suspicious of one or two based on their motives. The book is filled with current political issues, and though written based on the local Canadian context, one can easily relate to them - adding to the complexity of the murders, even making me agree that the politicians justly deserved to die.

Then there are the subplots: Clare's relationship dilemmas (lucky girl gets a who-do-I-choose? side story); a brewing romance amongst the suspected killers; and your occasional meddling reporter who gets in way over her head. Each resolved subplot gets you closer to the end, and just like any other detective story, they're not irrelevant to the story at large, though not in the way you'd expect them to be.

  • Clare is a 20-something biker-chick undercover detective who's a grease monkey, drinks beer, and wears tight jeans. What could be sexier than that? Heck, every character sound so good-looking - especially her Political Science professor. *insert grin here*
  • Unlike any of the detective novels I've previously read, it's not as predictable as it looks. On the contrary, it makes you think you know who did it, but then screws with you when you least expect it. Or did it? (possible spoiler here)
  • The book made a reference to the TV series Dexter. I don't know about you, but that automatically earns this novel 1000 points in my book.

Final say: Fast-paced but subtle, it will keep you guessing until the very end. I will now forgo Nancy Drew for more Clare Vengel.

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