Wednesday, August 25, 2010

If it bleeds, it leads

Silencing Sam: A Novel (Riley Spartz)

by Julie Kramer

This is now the third of Julie Kramer's mysteries that I've read, starting with Stalking Susan and Missing Mark. Within the first few paragraphs of Silencing Sam, I had this thought, "Oh, there she is!" The "she" I was referring to was television reporter Riley Spartz, the protagonist of the series. After just a few sentences, I had this overwhelming feeling of recognition. Riley's voice was so instantly familiar and recognizable. It was like getting a call from a friend you haven't heard from in a while. It was nice.

It may seem like I am belaboring the point, but the truth is, these mysteries have always been more about the characters and setting to me than the actual who-done-it. Oh, and by setting I mostly mean the fascinating world of television news--a world that Julie Kramer obviously knows inside out. (Although, at this point, the whole Minnesota setting is beginning to feel a bit exotic to this bi-coastal girl. Seriously, I had no idea Iowa and Minnesota shared a border. That can't be right?)

This time Riley's gotten into an altercation with the Twin Cities' local gossip columnist, Sam Pierce. The confrontation escalates to a drink in the face--which leads Riley into a courtroom, charged with assault. It's not her proudest moment, but it all would have blown over quickly enough if her accuser hadn't been murdered hours after the guilty verdict. Now Riley's looking guilty of a far more serious crime. As she's launching her own investigation to clear her name, she's got struggles on the professional front as well. The station has hired a good ol' boy from Texas as its newest reporter, and he's proving to be more competition than she needs right now. Station politics are as precarious as ever.

While Ms. Kramer's mysteries have life and death stakes, there is something gentle about them. They aren't too graphic or gory, which suits me just fine. Some of the clues are a little obvious--for instance, there was a series of clues in this novel that just jumped off the page, and I found it frankly unbelievable that a reporter of Riley's caliber didn't see what I saw. That said, for all my cleverness, it didn't get me any closer to figuring out who the murder was. I guess "Kramer the Namer" still has a few tricks up her sleeve.

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