Reading the Philippine’s first crime novel

_20170416_111032.JPGIn February, I went to my friend S.J.’s wedding in the Philippine’s. I loved, loved, loved the Philippine’s – the people, the places, the food.

Like most vacations, it was hard coming back. I think it was even harder coming back because we had been surrounded by so much love and happiness from the wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to coming back to a cold, snowy, stark Toronto. In a moment of mourning the end of my vacation, I picked up Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan at the Manila airport.

Smaller and Smaller Circles is often described as the Philippine’s first crime novel. After all, whodunnit detective novels usually hail from cold, rainy Scandinavian countries. But this is actually much more than your classic crime novel. It’s clear that Batacan is using fiction to make a statement about corruption of authorities and how the country’s poor are forgotten.

Batacan’s novel traces the steps two Catholic priest forensic investigators take to find a serial killer is who kills poor slum children and skins off their faces. It’s a bit like the movie Spotlight except both the good guys and the bad guys are priests.

Smaller and Smaller starts off slow but it does eventually hook you. Religion changes the perspective of the investigators and that’s something you won’t find in a Scandinavian detective novel. Batacan also dives deep into the interwoven church and state bureaucracy which is, at times, tedious.

This is a good read and does provide insight into current events in the Philippines such as the rise of Duterte and the conflicted relationship between citizens and a very power church.

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Interview with Robin Spano, author of Clare Vengel novels

Vengel_Dead_Politician_SocietyA while back, I discovered Robin Spano through Wattpad. She writes the Clare Vengel mysteries which are all based in Toronto. They’re great — and you can read the first book, The Dead Politician Society, for free.
What’s more, Robin was nice enough to agree to an interview with me! Unfortunately, I was a jerk and forgot to publish this until now. Sorry Robin! Luckily for you, the entire novel is now out on Wattpad so you won’t have to wait for each chapter to be revealed like I did (the suspense nearly killed me).
Describe The Dead Politician Society in 140 characters. A lighthearted mystery about politicians who are murdered and the people who might want them dead.
Why did you pick Toronto for the setting of this novel? The city and its people seem to play a big part in the story — could this have happened in any other city?
I grew up in Toronto, so it’s the city I know most intimately. It’s also where I lived when I was furious at the local political climate, so opening a novel with a dead mayor of Toronto felt poetically awesome.
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I personally love Clare because she’s so imperfect and insecure. As a young professional, I get that. What separates Clare Vengel from other fictional cops and detectives?
I think you nailed it. She’s different because she’s still learning the ropes of being an undercover cop. In the instruction books for how-to-write-a-mystery-novel, one of the cardinal rules is that the detective is supposed to be excellent at his or her job. I broke that rule.
While I think Clare has it in her to one day be a great cop, I’m more intrigued to watch her struggle toward excellence than I am to start her off as a hotshot right out of the gate. Readers can watch Clare learn and grow in each novel, and the arc of the series is a bit like a coming-of-age story.
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Did your personal politics find its way into your novel? Be truthful now, is there a municipal politician you’ve wished to off?
Yes! And he knows it. David Miller was mayor of Toronto when I wrote this book. While I loved his attitude toward arts and the environment, I felt like his government was screwing over Toronto businesses. (My husband owned a bar, so I felt this quite acutely.) Before he left office, I had the opportunity to meet Miller and explain why he had to go. He’s a mystery reader, so he was curious to read the book that he inspired. Now we’re quite friendly. (From a distance — on Twitter.)
You’re releasing Dead Politician Society for free one chapter at a time on Wattpad. In the words of Utopia Girl: “What’s in it for me, what’s in it for you?”
Dead Politician Society was published in 2010, and now there are two more books in the Clare Vengel series. (Death Plays Poker and Death’s Last Run.) As promotion for the series, my publisher, ECW Press, asked if I’d release the first one free and engage with readers in the process.

So what’s in it for you? A free read. What’s in it for me? I’m hoping to lure readers into the series with this free sample, make them want to follow Clare on her next adventures.

Meet Clare Vengel, undercover Toronto cop

I am finally embracing my inner Oprah and giving everyone a FREE BOOK! You get a book! And you get a book! And you! And you! AND YOU!

Mind you, the book is on Wattpad… where all books are free. But it’s a really good free book so you should take me up on my offer.

Vengel_Dead_Politician_SocietyThe book is Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano and it’s part of her Clare Vengel Undercover series. She’s been releasing the book for free on Wattpad one section at a time. The rest of the Clare Vengel series is available on Spano’s site.

Clare Vengel is undercover cop extraordinaire. Well, that’s her dream anyways. Her supervisor considers her so green, he considers speaking to her “babysitting”. In Dead Politician Society, the left-wing Toronto mayor is murdered and a secret society at the University of Toronto is suspect number one. Clare lands her first undercover gig as a poli sci student. Remember, left-wing mayor — so this is pre-Rob Ford.

Spano’s writing is fast and fun — switching between a number of eccentric characters all with their own motives to get rid of the mayor. Clare is reminiscent of Deb from Dexter. She’s a fast talker, self-doubting and occasionally sleeps around. She’s also on an uphill battle to prove herself as a skilled cop. If I have one criticism for Spano is that there should be waaay more about Clare than the rest of the characters.

I was a political science major at the University of Toronto once upon a time so the setting of the book was eerily familiar. I’ve literally taken courses in these buildings Spano describes. Pretty awesome to see the campus come alive in fiction.

So there, go ahead — take home your free copy 😉

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Gone Girl had me pulling my hair out

GONE_girlReading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is incredibly frustrating. Everything starts out a little too perfect. The characters are too shiny and it’s annoying. Then it they become unlikeable and super annoying. Then they become unbearably irritating.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is that I also couldn’t put it down!

I read this book in less than 3 days — a pace usually reserved for short stories and YA novels. It’s definitely a page-turner with all its twists and turns. There is a, to use the author’s words, major bombshell halfway through the book.

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Gone Girl is about a laid off magazine reporter named Nick Dunne and his picture perfect wife, Amy Dunne Elliot. His wife is a bit of a celebrity and has money to her name. But when both of them lose their jobs and Nick’s mother gets sick, they move out of their New York apartment and back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri. One day, Nick arrives home to find his wife missing and there are signs of a struggle.

As evidence piles up, the cops are increasingly discovering that it all points to Nick as the perpetrator. The media circus ensues — including a biased talk show host that is a startling reminder of Nancy Grace. And like any other murder case, the media automatically presumes it must be the husband.

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That’s all of the plot I can tell you without giving too much away. I found both passive aggressive Nick and little Miss Amazing Amy very irritating characters. Actually, I didn’t really like anyone in this book. I think that may be what makes Gone Girl so addictive. It’s a lot like watching the Real Housewives of Wherever. After a while, you realize that you’re only watching for the sensationalism.

It’s worth noting that the Gone Girl movie is scheduled for release in October 2014. Ben Affleck plays Nick and Rosamund Pike is Amy. Will be interesting to see how this plays out on the big screen and whether they decide to over-Hollywood-it.

The ending of Gone Girl will shock you. But if you’ve ever wondered how your parents stayed married, this will answer all your questions. Frankly, I’ll never look at marriage the same way again.

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