Friday, February 27, 2015

Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

The premise of this book is deliciously intriguing - the mayor has been killed, and a secret society at U of T has taken credit through an obituary sent to the paper. More politicians start dying, and the cops send an undercover officer to the school to infiltrate the society while the newspaper editor tries to figure out the connection between the victims.

The main character is supposedly Clare, the undercover cop who enrolls in the political science class where the society is rumoured to have started. But in reality each chapter follows a different character, so we don't get to see a lot of Clare - which is for the best in my opinion, as I found her story arc to be somewhat anemic.

In fact, there are perhaps two too many POV characters in the story, leaving each arc overcrowded and rushed. It also eliminated too many likely suspects, I think, making the killer so obvious that when I guessed them about a third of the way through the book, I thought I must be wrong and had identified a red herring. But no, I guessed correctly, and even got the motive too. So I think if the author wants to continue writing mysteries, that's something to work on - a fair play whodunnit is tricky because you do want the reader to have all the clues they need to figure it out, but you don't want it to be boring.

This book was a bit boring. Not getting enough time to immerse myself in a character before it jumped to the next one made it hard to invest in them. The professor character was especially difficult for me: I knew I didn't sympathize with his politics or the way he treated women, but then I felt like there was a shift at some point and the reader was supposed to sympathize with him? And there was no exploration of anyone's relationship, any reason why anyone was attracted to anyone else.

The worst was the way the society was handled. I read the whole damn book and I'm still not clear on what the society's mandate was or what they even did. They are called "Society for Political Utopia" but as far as I could tell, the characters in it had widely varied political stances, and the society never actually did anything except meet (once, in the novel) and churn out killers, apparently. It definitely could have been developed a bit more. I also think that the police would probably immediately question the professor about it (since it was perfectly obvious to everyone that he had started it) and subpoena his records - but they never did that, because they are the most useless cops I've maybe ever read about. They also apparently never put the pieces together in terms of connecting the victims, something the newspaper editor and the mayor's ex-wife did in one night of looking through the archives.

I think maybe the worst, most contrived scene in the story though was without a doubt the scene where the killer is finally arrested, in the middle of class, and asks to stand in front of the class and explain why they did it. It was so awkwardly bad and unrealistic, and made doubly so because I had figured out both about 100 pages earlier.

The one good thing about the book was how much of Toronto they used - I really enjoyed that. It felt like it was actually happening here, in a very smooth and seamless way.

Unfortunately I cannot recommend the book on the strength of being set successfully in Toronto. I give this one two CN Towers out of five.

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