"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday, November 12, 2010

Silencing Sam by Julie Kramer

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Summary: A reporter under suspicion of murder must find the real killer to prove her innocence.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher.

Don’t tell the mayor, but Minneapolis is ‘Murderoplis’ again. Julie Kramer’s newest thriller, Silencing Sam, brings murder to your front door with wit and a fresh take on current events Minnesotans will secretly relish.

Ambitious television reporter Riley Spartz is back in Julie Kramer’s third novel, having moved to Minneapolis after the recent attempts on her life in White Bear Lake. Yet Minneapolis doesn’t seem much safer, once a headless female corpse is found in Theo Wirth Park. Expecting to be assigned the story, Riley’s visible story is usurped by new colleague Clay Burrel, a transplant from Texas, who is almost as ambitious as Riley herself.

His arrogance and smug sexism infuriates Riley but there are bigger problems at work. Riley’s fictional Channel 3 is in trouble, and the ratings chase continues. Her boss advises her,
“I was thinking maybe you should take a look at airbrush make-up now that we’ve gone digital.” 
Ouch. When the station brings in a consultant -

“Your next job review will take into account how many Facebook friends you accumulate, especially in our viewing area.”

In addition to work tension, Riley is struggling on the personal front. Her burgeoning romance with former Minneapolis cop Nick Garnett is hampered by Nick’s assignment working for Homeland Security in D.C. Even worse, her private life has come under the malicious eye of newspaper gossip columnist Sam Pierce.
 “Because Minneapolis has fewer and lower-level celebrities than places like New York or Los Angeles, fairly minor indiscretions by fairly unimportant people that otherwise would be shrugged off get blown into headlines. 
Anybody who complained to Sam’s editors about the coverage went on his sh*t list and got bombed harder the next time. And there was always a next time.”
The day after Riley ignores Sam’s request for insider dirt on new coworker Clay, Sam takes his revenge in print. Sam Pierce insinuates that Riley had cheated on her dead husband with her current lover. Insulted, outraged and defensive, Riley dumps a glass of wine on him. Given the witnesses, and the victim, she is immediately charged with misdemeanor assault. Her charge should be dismissed, but the judge wants to set an example and convicts Riley.

When Sam is murdered a few days later, Riley is the most obvious and best-known suspect. Naturally, Channel 3 has an exclusive with Riley, billing her as the woman accused of murdering a local journalist. When the power of the press is used to investigate anything Riley’s working on, it’s the sword of justice. But when the media attention focuses on her alleged killing of Sam, she complains about accuracy and privacy rights. Annoying as that is, it feels very real.
“What really bothered me was that I was being portrayed as a sociopath…psychopath… even lunatic. Sam was being painted as a victim. And not just a murder victim, either. A First Amendment martyr.” 
In order to clear her name, keep her job, cover a popular story and avoid jail, Riley investigates who in Minneapolis would need to silence Sam once and for all.

The Minnesota references add a layer of delight for local readers. Riley mentions three other citizens who are also likely suspects in Sam’s murder -
“First, a repeat drunk driver who caused a child’s death; next, a Ponzi scheme engineer who cheated dozens; last, a crooked car dealer who’d been a household name.” 
That’s specific enough that Minnesotans know exactly who she’s talking about, but vague enough that readers in other states can enjoy this book without worrying about the details. One of Sam’s other victims is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. What company? And who? What’s the secret worth hiding? The hunky Timberwolves player can’t actually be a Gopher baskeball player, but we know who he’s supposed be. Kramer never names the Star Tribune outright but always refers to it as “the Minneapolis paper”. Instead of making the gossip columnist look like a young, black woman (C.J.), it’s an old white man. Just enough difference so that Kramer is safe, even though C.J.’s the only Minneapolis gossip columnist I know of.

The mystery is bogged down by another story Riley must cover, the bombings of wind turbines in southern Minnesota. While Riley needs something to do when she’s not on camera, it muddled the fast-paced tone of Kramer’s other books. Stalking Susan is her strongest book, amazing for a debut novel. The back-and-forth affection between Riley and ex-cop Nick Garnett are funny and tender. I look forward to having Riley and Nick navigate their relationship and balance the demands of their jobs in future novels.

It’s a pleasure to read books that reflect life as we currently know it, even if it means more murders in Minneapolis this year. Social networking, local politics, white-collar crime and pop culture references make this a delicious summer read for local news fiends and mystery fans.

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