The Riley Spartz books are exactly the kind of wonderful mid-list offering that I never would have stumbled across anywhere other than a bricks and mortar bookstore. The bright covers drew my attention when shelving and lent themselves to being a centerpiece of any display. And, invariably, I read the cover blurb, flipped open to the first page, and found myself hooked. I took Riley Spartz home with me, spent a few tense hours with her, and have never failed to pick up each new title on publication day since.
These are not serious, high brow mysteries, but nor are they your grandmother’s cozies. They manage to strike a happy medium of being witty and intensely entertaining, while having real suspense and depicting actual violence. Protagonist Riley Spartz is an investigative reporter for a Minnesota TV station, and as such she is just as worried about ratings and sweeps as she is with finding murderers. Her job makes her an interesting “amateur sleuth” in that she’s not actually an amateur at all. Riley knows all the tricks on digging up dirt on people and getting the information she needs out of interviews and well-placed contacts. But her goals are different than most murder investigators: she is more interested in telling a good story than finding justice, though both always seem to happen in the end. The mechanics of how reporters go about building a story for their television audience are given in detail and add authenticity to the story, along with providing insight into a world most readers have never visited. In a way, these books are a workplace dramedy, with reporters and networks in constant competition for stories and ratings numbers, not to mention budget cuts and unsympathetic bosses. Unlike most P.I./homicide detective characters, Riley always has her plate full of concurrent ongoing investigations, and the subplots, usually involving animal mysteries, are just as intriguing without distracting from the lead story in any way.
Killing Kate is the fourth installment of this series. While it can certainly be read as a standalone, I do encourage you to look up the backlist for Riley’s earlier adventures. This time around, tragedy strikes close to home when Riley hears her college roommate’s younger sister has been murdered at home. Riley’s connection with the victim’s sister allows her access to the crime scene, where she uncovers the victim’s secret life and some unusual markings left behind by the killer. Between investigations into a dog that died after being left in a locked car by its owner and a rise in counterfeiting, meetings with the station bosses and being scooped by the competition, Riley must decipher these clues…because she is, naturally, next on the killer’s list.
The short, fast-paced chapters fly by, making this the perfect book to read outside on a sunny afternoon. Riley’s investigations focus on building a story, not just collecting clues, which shapes the narrative and makes for a fun reading experience. I will warn you that the conclusion of this book is even more dramatic than usual for the series. While it does tie up its various loose ends, there are still a lot of looming questions left by the final scene that we are going to have to wait another year to explore. (Write faster!) Recommended.
Read our interview with author Julie Kramer here.
Watch the book trailer for Killing Kate:
This book was reviewed from an advance copy sent by the author/publisher.