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Missing Mark, Julie Kramer, Anchor Books, $7.99.


Julie Kramer is a favorite handsell of mine for the type of reader who enjoys, say, Janet Evanovich or Lisa Lutz.  Kramer’s books don’t have the laugh out loud guffaws those two ladies provide but she uses character and plot based humor very effectively, and in a very concise way.  These are straight up, well told stories, and if one of them concerns a kidnapped fish from the famed Mall of America in Minneapolis, well, so be it.  Kramer’s dandy main character, Riley Spartz, is a feature reporter for a Minneapolis news station.  Like many businesses, the TV news business is struggling, and both the books I’ve read have tied to the hunt for ratings during sweeps.

At least the hunt is on on the part of Riley’s boss, the wily and practical Noreen.  On Riley’s part the hunt is on, as it always is, for a good story.  She’s caught by an ad for a wedding dress being advertised as “Wedding Dress for sale: never worn,” and pretending to be a bride in need of a nuptial garment goes to meet the would be bride and try on the dress. The “bride”  tumbles to Riley’s intention about half way through their encounter, but then the even more interesting story comes out: Madeleine’s fiancee, Mark, had unexplainably jilted her at the altar, never to be seen again.  While no body has been found, Madeleine wants to know what happened, and Mark’s mother, when Riley eventually tracks her down, is sure he’s dead.

Julie Kramer visited us last summer and one of the things she talked about was that when a young, attractive woman goes missing, the media is all over it.  When a man is missing, no-one seems to care.  And she also had found some actual ads similar to the wedding dress one she uses in the story.  So voila - a novel was born.

There are three threads to the story - Mark’s disappearance; the kidnaping of a famous fish from the aquarium at the Mall of America; and the fact that Riley’s old pal, the police dog, Shep, is staying with her temporarily after his handler has been shot.  There are few smoother story tellers around than Kramer.  She makes the whole thing look so easy, but she’s actually weaving together several fairly complex plot threads, especially the central, “Missing Mark” thread, which has some unexpected twists.

The sidebar of the newsroom is an added bonus.  Kramer is herself a freelance television producer and she gives a real air of authenticity to her subject.  It’s a great behind the scenes look.  Meanwhile, she’s also including Riley’s love life (or lack of it) as part of the back story - Riley is a widow but there’s another potential suitor.  In the first two books, the two of them are going back and forth with each other, something of which I completely approve.  Every one knows settling a character’s love life can kill a series’ momentum.  Here’s to many more installments from this enjoyable and capable writer.


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