Tag Archives: ECW Press

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.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

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.