Tag Archives: Robin Spano

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.

It's a mystery! edition 2

20th January 2011

2011, my fellow readers and bloggers, has sucked. Yes, I realize it’s only Day 19, but from Day 1, spent at the ER with my Dad, it has sucked. Then there was Week 1 with Dad in the hospital, and work literally being the most insane. Ugh. Not to say there haven’t been a few good moments. I’m grateful I am employed. I am grateful my Dad is *mostly* ok and on a regimen to strengthen his heart for surgery. All in all, my daily mantra has become “Get glad in the same pants you got mad in” because it can always be worse, and I know it.

How does this relate to mysteries? Mysteries are, to me, like therapy. I hibernate with mysteries. There is some healing property in them, as you may be able to discern looking at the sidebar. Yep, every read in 2011 has been a mystery. So how were they? Let me tell you:

Dead Politician’s Society by Spano*

Funny, quirky, a little bit naughty and not a lot nice. This debut is about a young-ish policewoman, Clare, who is eager to prove herself as an undercover cop. She bristles around her handler and isn’t the most perceptive cop, so she gets in trouble. A lot. Like, murders happen with her in the same room. However, she isn’t grating. Here’s the deal: a politician gets killed, and an organization, The Society for Political Utopia, not only takes responsibility but also writes the local newspaper an obituary, explaining why. As the murders continue, everyone is a suspect, local university students who follow cult-like after their leader; the professor himself, who thinks he’s a maverick but who is, in reality, a stereotype, sleeping with his students; the mayor’s wife who has lived, as a lesbian, separately from him for years. All the while, the killer messages Annabel, a reporter for the local paper who wants to stay close to the story, but the story may come just a little too close. There were a few moments where I had to really suspend my disbelief, but all in all, this was a fun read.

*Read on my mom’s Kindle when Coffee and a Book Chick advertised Robin Spano was offering her ebook for a limited time at $1.99.

Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Love from Hell by M.C. Beaton


The Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton


I read this trio quickly and enjoyed every minute. Agatha Raisin is a middle-aged former publicist-turned-detective who is quite a bit vain and helplessly dependent on the idea of love, specifically when it comes to James Lacey, a man who, in all appearances, seems to want nothing to do with her. In The Terrible Tourist, Agatha chases after James to Cyprus, where all sorts of hijinks occur. Agatha meets an odd group of tourists while on a boating trip. She is alone, and there are two other trios, each a married couple and an older gentlemen. One group appears to be old money, while the other is a bit crass. The nouveau riche woman is murdered, and Agatha is in constant danger of being murdered. She is also in danger of leaving Cyprus broken hearted. In Love from Hell, Agatha and James are married, cannot abide one another, and argue constantly. That is, until James disappears, and a woman (with whom he has been sleeping) is found murdered. Agatha must, with the help of her friends, clear James’s name and determine whether or not she has any love left for her husband.

The Deadly Dance is the first novel where Agatha sets up her agency. The local constabulary isn’t happy with her amateurish investigations, but she quickly proves herself with the help of her ever-growing staff. The agency gets its first big “case” and what initially appears to be a horrible mistake, turns into a case bigger than Agatha bargained for. With the help of her friend/lover Charles, she must track down a fiendish, cold-blooded killer.

Death of a Village by M.C. Beaton

If I had to choose, I would most likely pick Hamish Macbeth over Agatha Raisin. The novels still have quite a bit of charm, but the stories don’t jump around like the Agatha Raisin series. In this episode, Hamish Macbeth decides to take a trip to ease his discontent. He drives to the hamlet of Stoyre, but the small village does not restore Macbeth the way he would wish. Instead, he finds a village somewhat different than what he remembers. The villagers are not welcoming; in fact, a fire destroys the home of the only outsider in Stoyre. Macbeth tries to investigate but is stopped at every turn by closemouthed, fearful villagers. Macbeth must make a chink in the village’s armor and figure out what the crime is with the help of reporter Elspeth and an elderly couple – Mrs. Docherty and Mr. Jefferson.

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Each of these is a great read, and I could certainly recommend them for light reading. What about you? Any mysteries lately? What have you been reading?

happy reading – jenn aka picky girl

P.S. If you want to know about the two Winspear’s I read, stay tuned. I plan to write full reviews of each because they were fantastic!