Julie Kramer: Killing Kate

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.