Michigan politics satirized by new murder mystery novel

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In his 50-year career in media and politics, W. Edward Wendover has tilted at his fair share of windmills. His outspoken approach to life, which is sometimes also brash and cynical, is taken to another level in his new career as a mystery writer.

His latest mystery, “Murder by Lansing Kool-Aid,” is a murderous romp through the Michigan Legislature, or at least the Democratic House, where Wendover was the chief of staff for Mike Huckleberry, D-Greenville.

The “Kool-Aid” Wendover refers to in the title is a magic elixir that people running for office receive and quickly find themselves addicted to.

The first legislator to be murdered is Speaker of the House Andy Dillon, D-Redford, who is stabbed to death in the dome infrastructure of the Capitol. “He has a good sense of humor and will get a kick out of it,” Wendover said.

Then, Huckleberry, the heir apparent, is found dead in his office after a particularly gruesome murder. Finally, George Cushingberry is struck down by a racing automobile and left in critical condition.

“I took the Huckleberry job as a favor to an old political friend,” Wendover, who began working in the State Capitol in 2009, said. “As soon as I got there and saw the bullshit, I knew it would be a great setting for a murder mystery.”

Throughout the book, Wendover uses the real names of people he encountered while on the job; most are used in pure fun. You will find the names of his friends, such as former Department of Education lobbyist Roberta Stanley, Capitol tour guide chief Matt Van Acker‚ who discovers the first body, followed by a plethora of lobbyists including Jim Byrum and Pat Goggin of the Dow Chemical Co.

Wendover’s writing shows he is not fond of lobbyists who spend lavishly to influence legislation. In the book, he blames term limits for “speeding up politicians’ theft and self-aggrandizement and giving more oomph to paid multi-client lobbyists.”

“Murder by Kool-Aid” is the third book in what Wendover has called his Prepositional Murder series. The other two are “Murder at the Penniman Deli” and “Murder on Fogo Island,” which both have a preposition in the title.

Strange? “Nah, Sue Grafton has an alphabet series, so why not prepositions?” he said.

In “Murder by Kool-Aid,” Wendover focuses on a number of Lansing-area bars that serve as getaways for legislative staff and lobbyists. Among them are Harry’s, Dagwood’s, the Unicorn Bar and Kelly’s Irish Pub. In keeping with tradition, Wendover includes 20 recipes for popular local food choices, including the mac and cheese from Kelly’s and the bean soup from Dagwood’s.

The author gives a special heads up to the prime rib at the former Jim’s Tiffany Lounge, which brought together journalists and politicians. Known as a “good pour bar,” Jim’s hosted local members of the national journalism society, Sigma Delta Chi in a small upstairs meeting room. Meanwhile, downstairs lobbyists expensed prime rib dinners for legislators.

If there is a sympathetic protagonist in “Murder by Kool-Aid,” it is Ted Roby, an inspector with the Michigan State Police who proves to be a dogged investigator.

I spoke with Wendover, newly widowed, about his mystery novel career from Munising, where he is continuing the bucket list tour he began with his wife Sally. He is on his own now, but is ticking off the sites as he travels the United States.

“We had four years together we weren’t supposed to have,” he said.

For the tour, he and Sally had a diesel bus tricked out with a cabin-like atmosphere. They nicknamed it the Old Age Home for Hippies.

“When we bought it at an auction it had 6,000 miles on it, and it’s now running with over 44,000 miles,” he said.

For his book “Murder at the Penniman Deli,” Wendover drew heavily on his experience as the founder and owner of the Plymouth-Canton Community Crier, which he ran for 26 years. At the Crier, he trained a lot of “cub reporters,” including Hank Meijer, now CEO of Meijer.

The author calls the new book “a fun spoof” produced with “101 percent alternative facts.”

Wendover said as soon as he saw Fogo Island, he knew it would be a great location for a locked-down murder mystery and began taking notes immediately. He knew he had hit a homerun when the guide who picked them up at the airport was also the justice of peace.

Both books, “Murder on Fogo Island” and “Murder by Lansing Kool-Aid,” are available on Amazon and will soon be re-released with special editions.

Wendover’s approach to writing mysteries may be a bit unusual, but pure mystery readers will appreciate his in-depth knowledge of mystery authors and the genre as a whole.

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