Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

A mystery-writing college professor I know recently joked (?) that the reason the victims in her first two books had been college students was that it was more polite behaviour than killing the real thing. As I don’t write fiction I’m dependent upon others to carry out my fantasy murders of choice and for me these would involve politicians. So how could I resist a book titled Dead Politician Society which also counts as book 4 towards my Canadian Book Challenge?

When a politician is killed in Toronto rookie police officer Clare Vengel is tasked with her first undercover assignment: join the political science class at the local University where police believe someone may be, or at least know something about, the killer. An email that appears to have originated on campus was sent to a newspaper claiming responsibility for the politician’s murder on behalf of The Society for Political Utopia and it’s Clare’s job to see what she can find out. When she joins Matthew Easton’s Political Utopia for the Real World class she meets more than one person with motive for killing and when more politicians start dying she has to work fast.

At 42 I’m probably a bit young for grumpy old woman status but if my reaction to the character of Clare is anything to go by I’ve definitely got my training wheels on. Despite being given a job she covets Clare does her best to ruin her chances of success by behaving irresponsibly, such as deliberately getting drunk while under cover and forgetting what falsehoods she has told, and berating her handler in an annoyingly childish fashion for all manner of imagined put downs. This might be quite realistic behaviour for a 22-year old but all I wanted to do was give her a slap and tell her to grow up.

Fortunately for me though this is not one of those stories in which a single character advances all the action. In fact the book’s chapters alternate from different points of view and in addition to Clare’s we see action unfold from the perspective of Matthew (the Professor), Laura (the ex-wife of the first victim), Jonathan (one of the students in the class) and Annabel (the journalist who is in text-message contact with the person claiming to be the killer). I found the regular switching gave the book a good, fast pace as well as allowing me to get away from Clare and engage with people I found much more interesting.

Much of the action unfolds against the backdrop of Matthew Easton’s unorthodox class in which students are divided into political parties and must from alliances, present legislation and generally operate as a parliament. Being a politics junkie I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel (I would have crawled over hot coals to be part of something like this when I studied political science myself all those years ago) and thought it offered an original spin on what is at heart a classic whodunnit. Having the students discussing and debating a range of issues allowed all sorts of possible motives to be explored as we learn about the histories and families of all the players. This kept me guessing, if not about the culprit, then about motives and the ultimate outcome right to the end.

Dead Politician Society is well-plotted, has just the kind of social introspection that I enjoy in my reading and the characters are well drawn. The fact that I found Clare to be annoying as hell is quite realistic, I get that annoyed by real people too. If you’re in the market for a funny, fast read with a political bent then you could do a lot worse (especially if you are not a curmudgeonly old woman).

Dead Politician Society has also been reviewed at A Novel Source, Musings of a Bookish Kitty and Pickle Me This (none of these reviews mention any level of annoyance at the character of Clare and one thinks she is a brilliant, feisty heroine so mine is clearly not a universal reaction, just me being a grumpy old woman).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3/5
Publisher ECW Press
ISBN 9781550229424
Length 328 pages
Format eBook (PDF)
Source My thanks to the Publisher, via Net Galley, for the review copy

This entry was posted in book review, Canada, Canadian Book Challenge #4, 2010-11, Robin Spano. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

  1. kathy durkin says:

    A question: If the book was so interesting (political science class, several characters, some worth reading about), why a rating of 3? I was guessing at least a 3.5, maybe a 4 from the review.
    My high school days: We had a current events class which was divided into left, right, center and we debated every topic every day; position was related to ideology. It was a lot of fun.
    Also, thanks for giving “Thursday Night Widows” a good review and thanks also to Petrona. I’m reading it for my informal global challenge and it isn’t a book I’d have picked up, but I am enjoying it and learning quite a bit about Argentina’s recent economic history. The human interest part of it is good; it is another slice of the human condition.
    Now to figure out Asia.


  2. Bernadette – Thanks for this review. You point out a few real advantages of alternating points of view in a story. One of them is to give the reader a rest from a character. Another is to move the action along. Of course, doing that smoothly, so that the story doesn’t get jumbled, can be tricky. I’m really glad you found some things to like about this one; the premise sounded really interesting to me, and it’s good to know it didn’t seriously flounder.

    And I agree completely with that mystery-writing college professor you mentioned – it’s always much more polite to kill people off in one’s writing than it is to do so in real life. Less mess, too *snicker* ;-)..


  3. @Kathy the book would have rated a 3.5 if I had liked Clare more (or at all). Even though there were other characters to take some of the load it was still a lot about her and I found myself gritting my teeth at several points (though from reading other reviews I’m clearly in the minority as others see her as feisty and interesting). It’s my particular problem that I couldn’t take to her at all but we can’t help these things

    Glad you are enjoying Thursday Night Widwos.

    @Margot I did the next best thing – imagining that the ones in this book were the ones I have to deal with regularly. Very enjoyable 🙂


  4. Robin Spano says:

    Hey, is it perverse of me if I love this review? Naturally I agree with those other reviewers about Clare being awesome, but Bernadette, your reaction is real and I love the way you say it (I even linked to this review on Clare’s facebook wall). Clare is a strong character, so naturally not everyone will love her (in her world or the real world). I’m stoked that you enjoyed the rest of the book enough that hating the lead didn’t make you put it down. Thanks for this honest reaction – and for the ultimately good review.


  5. Robin I’m glad you like the good bits of the review. I really did try to like Clare but t’was not to be, I’m sure mine is a minority reaction though.


  6. Em says:

    I tend to like characters that are not “likeable”, maybe I should read this? and I haven’t read a murder novel for a few months; it could be a nice change. I think I’ll add it to my TBR (Canadian Book Challenge) list 🙂


  7. kathy durkin says:

    I hear you Bernadette, but now what this review and discussion has generated is that I have to get hold of this book and read it! I have to find out about Clare and the plot.
    It is fires up the urge to read the book and discover what’s happening. Always good reviews here and good discussions and they solicit forth action!


  8. It’s a debut novel Kathy so hopefully it can be found in your neck of the woods somewhere. I would be curious to see what you think of Clare (I think you’d like the political side if the novel anyway).


  9. Brian Roberts says:

    Hmm…I sort of liked the young lady as I can relate to ‘defiant’ characters’–motorcycles too. The cover illustration is rather ‘old school’ but if you look closer it tells a story in itself!


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