Death’s Last Run

Death’s Last Run is a mystery novel by Robin Spano, gifted to me by a Scrabble player. For an independently-produced work (ECW Press) this novel looked classy and attractive. It was a hefty brick of a book at four hundred pages. The novel centred on the undercover agent in the title, Clare Vengel, and her role in solving the murder of the daughter of an American presidential candidate. Spano wrote a whodunnit based mostly on dialogue and since there were so few descriptions of people and places, those passages not in quotations seemed strangely out of place. They all seemed to be afterthoughts; snippets of scenery fitted in around the talking heads. When a text is so heavy in dialogue it is important to create characters who can be identified solely by their lines. It shouldn’t be necessary to precede or follow each quotation with “So-and-so said”. At times when Spano left out the speakers’ names I had no idea who was saying what. I had to backtrack and substitute character names in the speaking roles to fit the dialogue puzzle. Nevertheless, books composed mainly of dialogue are rapid reads and I certainly sped through this. Another reason for it being a speedy read could have been that there were 91 chapters. That meant every chapter was short and there was no reason to not continue reading just a little bit longer. However a book composed of so many short chapters didn’t allow for much to happen and when it did, it seemed like an overload of deus ex machina, especially at the end. 

I am not turned off by books of this length yet I am sorry to say that by the time I hit page 300 I couldn’t wait to get to the end. My haste was not built upon suspense or eagerness in knowing who the murderer was. Although I turned the pages at a paper-cut pace that didn’t mean that I got involved in the story; in fact I felt quite distant from the action. I just wanted to hurry up and finish it and move on to something else. 

Clare Vengel is an American undercover agent sent to Whistler, BC to investigate the apparent suicide of a young American drug smuggler. The suicide turns into a murder investigation in the middle of a presidential campaign, since the victim, Sacha, is the daughter of a leading Republican candidate. Clare meets Sacha’s friends and wheedles her way into replacing her at her home and place of employment. I didn’t find this believable at all–a young woman comes to town suddenly occupying both Sacha’s home as well as place of employment–and she starts asking questions. 

As this is a mystery novel I won’t ruin it with spoilers but Spano does throw in some twists where all of a sudden what you thought was happening ends up being something else. One such twist, predictably, involves the murder and of course the whodunnit. I found the onslaught of revelations at the end to be overwhelming. 

Aside from a small number of typos and omitted words (not worthy of mentioning here) I was nonetheless struck by this grammar gaffe, which I absolutely abhor:

“If it wouldn’t have been political suicide, I might have entertained his arguments more seriously.”

English does not use the conditional past after if clauses. Simply say “If it hadn’t been political suicide…”. Where are Steve Kipner and Randy Goodrum, the composers of the Chicago song “If She Would Have Been Faithful…”? Thirty-three years after this song came out and I still want to wring their necks.

Near the end of the book I quite liked the line “Why are you talking like your voice got caught in a bicycle chain?”. I’m always impressed by inventive phrases of description.

Although I wouldn’t rave about Death’s Last Run, I am still interested enough in reading the first two Clare Vengel undercover novels. 

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