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Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

dead politicians society spano Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

Readers of this site will no doubt be aware that I have rather a soft spot for mystery novels. After all, there are few things more joyfully indulgent than pitting ones wits against those of a sharp-talking sleuth, the notoriously evasive key suspect, and, of course, the author of the said mystery, who has no doubt spent many a night shuffling around colour-coded post-it notes to get those pesky red herrings just right. Of the mystery genre as a whole, I have to admit that the cozy sub-genre holds most appeal to me: who doesnt love reading about a dry cleaner working to keep her home-town clean, or a feisty librarian more than happy to throw the book at a pesky criminal? The thing about cozies that makes them so appealing is the fact that they stray away from the standard crimes, perpetrators, and victims so often seen in the crime and mystery genre beat. And while Robin Spanos debut Dead Politician Society doesnt quite fall under the cozy genre, it certainly draws on a number of the elements that make a cozy so much fun.


With her motorcycle leathers, love of a stiff drink, and chain smoking habit, Clare Vengel likes to think of herself as one tough cookie. But despite her cold-as-ice attitude, Clares disappointed at her inability to quickly and easily climb the ranks of the Toronto police force, and shell do anything to get ahead. Even, as it turns out, going undercover as a political science major to help stop a slew of recent murders targeting Torontos political elite. But as Clare settles into university coursework, she finds that both the body count and her class reading continues to mount, until Clare finds herself pitting her wits against those of a veritable criminal mastermindand dealing with an existential crisis to boot.

My thoughts

I was immediately enamoured of the idea behind Dead Politician Society, and settled myself in for what I hoped would be a superlative read. Unfortunately, while the book gets top marks at a conceptual level, it falls down somewhat in the execution, at least for this (admittedly stern and grumbly) reader.

Perhaps the major drawback in Dead Politician Society, at least to my mind, is the way in which the plot unfolds. Its fairly standard (at least in the western canon) for a reader to expect that the major characters will have some influence on the plot, and that their actions (or inactions) will help advance the plot in some way. In this debut, however, this rarely seems to be the case. Clare Vengel, upon being assigned, rather oddly, her undercover role, proceeds to do little in the way of investigative police work, instead spending her days getting drunk on the job, chain smoking, and mouthing off to her jaded superior. As such, the plot seems as though its forced to unfold just because rather than as the result of any key actions or decisions on Clares behalf. In fact, the mystery itself is solved by a minor character, and is then explicated in a sudden confession from the killer, rather than at Clares own hand. Clare actually seems all but extraneous to the plot, and her extreme ambivalence over her professional identity (resulting in a sudden decision to quit the force and return to school), only makes her feel even more irrelevant, an issue further highlighted by how little page time Clare is given as a character.

Point of view is extremely important in any sort of whodunnit or thriller, as different perspectives are often judiciously used to help give the reader insight into the criminal mind, or to throw the reader off track. For this reason many mysteries either stick to a single strict and limited point of view, or flit between several point of view characters with a view to muddying the narrative waters. Spano opts for the latter, but not always successfully, and I felt that this had a significant effect on the cohesion of the novel as a whole, as well as the degree to which I was able to suspend my disbelief. The book rotates through a number of point of view characters, several of whom are trying to solve the series of crime forming the crux of the plot, and several of whom are potential culprits. However, not only is this highly confusing, especially in the opening chapters, but also the fact that we have several amateur sleuths on the case significantly weakens Clares already slight role in the plot, serving only to subordinate her as a character. The result is a significantly unfocused plot, as it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate the intended protagonist from the rest of the cast. Another major issue with the frequently rotating points of view is that important information is, in rather Dan Brown-esque style, concealed from the reader despite the fact that this information is known to the characters in question. While obviously this is necessary to keep the reader in the dark for as long as possible, one cant help but feel a tad cheated by this approach. Rather than withholding information in such a way, a different approach to point of view should perhaps have been taken.

While I was quite taken with the political elements of the book, and the evident fun that Spano has with this, such as the political role-playing engaged in by the players, and the ends-justifies-the-means Society for Political Utopia, I found that these elements werent as well integrated into the book as I would have liked. This was in part due to the fact that the characters involved in these groups were necessarily sketched cursorily in order to avoid giving too much away, but also in part due to the fact that Clare herself has little interest in anything vaguely political, meaning that she fails to engage with this fairly essential element of the book on any meaningful level. I found, too, that I struggled to believe the promulgated motivations of certain key characters: it almost feels as though the motivations for the murders were added as an afterthought.


Dead Politician Society revolves around a creative, if not entirely plausible premise, and it was this central conceit that had me intrigued to read more. However, the book suffers somewhat from its veritable plethora of point of view characters, as well as the rather infelicitous approach taken to point of view, with the result being an unfocused plot whose conclusion seems a little out of the blue, rather than the tightly plotted resolution one typically expects of a mystery. This, combined with main character Clares bewilderingly minimal role in the narrative, resulted in a read that didnt quite hold together for me. Politics buffs and crime readers, however, may find that this novel is a better fit for them.

Rating: star Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spanostar Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spanohalfstar Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spanoblankstar Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spanoblankstar Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano (not bad)

With thanks to the author for the review copy.

Purchase Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano: Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA


  1. Ive got this book on my TBR, but Not sure if I should read it now.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Michael! I really liked the concept of this one, but the execution didnt quite work for me. It is a debut, though, so I wouldnt be surprised to see good things from Spano in the future.

  2. Im normally hiding here; its just that a lot of the books here I have no knowledge of so cant really comment. But today I thought I would back track and see what Ive missed

  3. Stephanie /

    Lurking is always appreciated :) I have read a couple of strong mysteries of late, though, and Im currently reading one thats very good, so perhaps I can come up with some recs for you.

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