Tag Archives: Canada

Review: Death’s Last Run by Robin Spano

1st August 2013

pg1*I received this book from the publisher ECW Press in exchange for an honest review.

Clare Vengel is back again in Robin Spano’s sequel to Death Plays Poker. Now an FBI agent, Clare is called to go undercover when a U.S. Senator’s daughter dies. Though Sasha’s death is ruled a suicide, Senator Martha Westlake, also campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, doesn’t believe her daughter killed herself. With enough clout to call in the FBI, Martha expects results but also begins doing her own digging to determine what happened.

As Clare embroils herself in the snowboarding culture of Whistler, she learns that drug running is hot business and that Sasha likely had several people who wanted her dead. She also learns that Sasha may have had other motives than drug money and counter culture.

Clare is an odd protagonist. At times, she’s incredibly childish – painting herself into corners with her boyfriend and her boss – yet she also makes it clear she’s not a child, doing things for the job that shock and anger those around her. She also doesn’t seem to be an incredible undercover agent, allowing herself to become wrapped up in the people and the place she’s assigned without keen observation or detection. But what the reader discovers each time is that Clare’s assumption of her role is exactly what makes her successful, even if it puts her in danger at times.

As always, Spano’s sharp storytelling and economical prose quickly grabbed my attention. What sets her apart even further, however, is her expert handling of multiple perspectives, exploring the quirky citizens of Whistler and their motives without judgment. She also does an excellent job of providing readers with characters we should like – Clare, Martha, Noah – who are pretty awful at times, and characters we should dislike or suspect and making them sympathetic and likable. Thus, when the denouement occurs, there’s an uneasy feeling as the reader holds his or her breath, waiting to find the identity of the culprit.

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Review: A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe

9th October 2012

*I received this from the publisher Pegasus in exchange for an honest review.

DI Hazel Micallef doesn’t believe a bee killed Henry Wiest. The man is a fixture in Kehoe Glenn, and something is off. Found outside a cigarette shop on the First Nations Reserve, Henry’s death is written off as accidental, and the reservation police don’t dig much further than that. Hazel isn’t satisfied. Henry didn’t smoke, and why was he on the reservation in the first place? The more questions she asks, the more disturbing the answers that DI Micallef finds until the resulting chaos can’t be ignored by anyone.

This is the kind of case that news reporters say “rock the small community” with its violence. I received this book in the mail without having heard of it before, I picked it up to read the first couple chapters and spent the ensuing afternoon and evening reading every last page of this book.

A Door in the River is one in a series of mysteries featuring Hazel Micallef, and I could definitely tell I was missing some of her personality and background because this was the first I’d read. Hazel is recovering from back surgery. She’s divorced, and her elderly, ailing mother has moved in with her. There are also a lot of changes going on at work, and I felt a bit in the dark with the references to past work history. However, the lack of background didn’t affect the overall novel (I particularly hate information dumps), which was paced well and extremely suspenseful. The book opens with a girl on the run and a dying man. How she figures into the story is what the rest of the novel works to figure out.

With a little Lisbeth Salander-style revenge and a lot of tension, A Door in the River was a great introduction to Kehoe Glenn and DI Micallef.

[Note: I would recommend beginning this series with the first book, The Calling.]

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Death Plays Poker by Robin Spano

26th September 2011

*I received this book through NetGalley, courtesy of ECW Press. Preview the first three chapters here. Buy it from IndieBound here.

Clare is back in her second undercover assignment, playing poker on the Canadian tour. Someone is cheating at cards, and The Dealer, as he or she calls him or herself, wants to be in control of the tables, all of them. Poker players are getting strangled, and after the last undercover agent is killed, Clare is put in the game as a trust-fund princess, eager to show daddy poker can be gainful employment. But blingy sweatpants, $200 sunglasses, and hot pink everything is not exactly Clare’s style. She’s much more comfortable with greasy hands and repairing her bike than shopping and wearing heels. Can she jump into the role while still maintaining who she is and manage to find out why these players are being dealt such bad hands?

First of all, may I just say I think this is a brilliant cover? I love the retro look of it, but also, look at all the detail. Love. It. Death Plays Poker is a sequel to Dead Politicians Society, which I reviewed at the start of the year. In that book, Clare sort of stumbles around and somehow manages to pinpoint the killer. She’s learned a bit at the start of this book but not much.

In this installment, she’s belligerent and defiant toward her handler, when she claims to want to be so great at her job. Plus, she makes such rookie mistakes that I began to get irritated with her, until I remember she’s very young, early 20s in fact. She gets emotionally involved quickly, though she appears rough and tumble, and she’s very much in need of a handler who can instruct without preaching.

The other characters are straight off World Poker Tour, those interminable shows on ESPN, and I loved Spano’s depiction of the “tells” and theatrics that go into the poker persona. These people spend a good bit of time with one another at the tables and on tour. In a sense, Spano presents them as family, albeit an incestuous, extremely volatile one. It isn’t such a leap, then, to watch them play stop after stop even after a murder is committed. The game is an unforgiving matriarch, bringing them all back to face each other again and again.

This is a great rainy-day read, not too scary, but it’s no Agatha Raisin either. Clare can hold her own and reminds me a bit of Lily Bard, Charlaine Harris’s hard-ass creation.