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Suspense/Thriller

Killing Kate, Julie Kramer, Atria, $23.99.

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This will be the most entertaining 24 bucks you spend all year.  I’ve enjoyed all of Julie Kramer’s Riley Spartz books but I think this is my absolute favorite.  It’s a serial killer book but by instead focusing on only one victim, Kate, the little sister of Riley’s estranged college roommate, Kramer makes this a more original reading experience.  It also makes the murder more heartbreaking and, as a reader, you are far more emotionally invested than you would be with a long string of victims.  Kramer has a few things she sticks to through the series - all are set in the world of television news, as main character Riley is an on-air reporter for a Minneapolis TV station.  There’s often a sidebar story involving a dog - though this one is pretty heartbreaking, it gives the whole book more depth.  And there’s lots of off hand humor.  Riley looks at the world in a commonsensical, humorous manner that’s especially compelling.

The story kicks off with the murder of Kate.  Riley is assigned to cover the murder and realizes with horror that she knows the victim.  Her memories of Kate’s big sister, Laura, aren’t so fond, but it’s not a time to turn on an old friend, even an estranged one.  As the author alternates points of view between the killer and Riley, you’re slowly drawn into both the killer’s thought process as he plans his next murder, and Riley’s, as she tried to figure out who he is.  It becomes clear that these two things will intersect, and not in a good way.

Often people ask me for books that are “like” Janet Evanovich, and I steer them both to Julie Kramer and Lisa Lutz, though I think both Lutz and Kramer are far better writers, even if they may not be the non stop joke machine that Evanovich is.  There’s humor in the work of both writers, but it’s balanced by plot, character, and setting.  In Kramer’s books Minneapolis and the midwest in general are lovingly described, and Riley herself is a wonderful creation.  The TV newsroom setting just adds to the interest of the books, as does Riley’s hard/soft boss (she has a soft spot for animals) Noreen.  Kramer turns up the stakes and the final outcome all around, and her narrative skills are so fine tuned that as you race through the pages, enjoying the ride, you probably won’t realize the craftsmanship that surely went into producing such a well told story. 

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The Killing Song, P.J. Parrish, Pocket, $7.99.

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While this isn’t in P.J. Parrish’s fine Louis Kincaid series, they (the sisters who make up P.J, Parrish) are pretty expert at whatever they turn their hands to, and this novel is no exception.  It’s a serial killer novel with their own special twist. Their main character is a reporter, Matt Owens, who loses his sister to the killer early on in the book.  The scenes of Matt’s search for his sister, and of his and his parent’s grief, is so movingly done that I was crying so hard (at the laundromat, no less) I had to put the book down for a bit.  It’s this grief that sets this novel apart from any other serial killer novel.  I guess what I really mean is that by having Matt’s sister be one of the victims, as a reader, you are fully invested in what happens, and totally behind Matt as he spares nothing in his search for his sister’s killer.

That said, this is a thriller of a ride, with a very clever killer at the center who uses songs and music as clues.  Bodies turn up everywhere - Miami (Matt’s sister), London, Paris, Scotland - and the book takes you on a whirlwind tour of the globe, though the main focus is Paris.  Matt manages to connect with first an old colleague, now living in Paris, and then with the cop in charge of one of the cases, Eve, though it’s an early case that haunts her, and in her own way, she’s as obsessed and focused as Matt.

The combination of standard police work, off the books police work, and Matt’s reporting skills take the pair farther and faster than they might have done either separately or working through official channels. The layering in of Matt’s life, Eve’s life, and the inter-cutting of scenes inside the mind of the killer make for an absolutely compelling read. As the novel utilizes and comes back to the Paris sewer system - they are the holding center for millions of bones placed there after city cemeteries got too full hundreds of years ago - the overlay of the story is very gothic and atmospheric.  By the last third of the book I found it impossible to do anything but read.  This is a great read, and perfect for an airplane or the beach or simply curling up on your sofa with at the end of a long day. I recommend using Google Images to look up photos of the sewer system - amazing and creepy. 

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