MYSTERIES REVIEW: "Killing Kate" and "Whose Hand?"

  • Article by: STEVE WEINBERG , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2011 - 2:47 PM

Journalists Julie Kramer and Judith Yates Borger place readers in the newsroom in their murder mysteries.

As a collector of novels about journalists, I can state with authority that it is unusual for two fiction writers in the same city to produce such books. Ratcheting up the unusualness is that both novelists are female, and so are both protagonists.

In Minneapolis, those writers are Judith Yates Borger, whose protagonist is newspaper reporter Skeeter Hughes, and Julie Kramer, whose protagonist is television reporter Riley Spartz. "Whose Hand?" is Borger's second novel, and "Killing Kate" is Kramer's fourth.

Both novels are filled with places and events recognizable to Twin Cities residents -- no surprise, given Kramer's years at WCCO-TV and Borger's at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Both authors are currently freelance journalists. Truth is often stranger than fiction, but Borger and Kramer have learned how to make fiction feel like truth of sorts -- an excellent talent for novelists who need readers to suspend disbelief from the first page until the last. Both novels are first-rate insider observers of journalism, allowing nonjournalists to learn about the craft through their stories.

Borger's plot line in "Whose Hand?" is connected to Hughes developing a new beat for her newspaper -- writing about missing persons. She hears about three cases of adults who have disappeared without a trace, with foul play a real possibility. When a grizzled elderly fisherman contacts Hughes to report he has dredged up a severed hand from a local lake, Hughes labors to figure out whether the hand belongs to one of those missing persons. What she learns is not what she hypothesized initially; it makes for a front-page story, though, as Hughes -- like so many other fictional journalists -- discovers and solves a homicide. Borger is a skilled stylist, and the plot unfolds without flaws of illogic. Far too many mysteries are bedeviled by illogical plot developments. The only weakness of "Whose Hand?" revolves around a secondary story line about Hughes' troubled marriage to a reporter from a competing Twin Cities newspaper. The resolution of the troubled marriage leaves too many questions unanswered.

Kramer's plot line in "Killing Kate" revolves around a murderer who sketches angel-shaped chalk lines around the bodies of the victims. Spartz's sleuthing takes her to Iowa City, south of the Minnesota border, to a cemetery that is home to the Black Angel graveyard statue. (This is a real-life detail.) Understanding why the statue exists in the cemetery and who commissioned it helps Spartz find the killer.

I have read Kramer's previous three novels and recommend them. "Killing Kate" is just as strong until the very end, when Kramer rushes the narrative, cramming too much drama into too few pages, thus fraying the suspension of disbelief. The shaky finale, however, is not a reason to bypass "Killing Kate."

Steve Weinberg is at www.steveweinberg writer.com/

  • related content

  • KILLING KATE

    By: Julie Kramer.

    Publisher: Atria Books, 336 pages, $23.99

    Events: Launch party, 7 p.m. July 26, Once Upon a Crime, Mpls.; 11:30 a.m. July 27, Barnes & Noble, Nicollet Mall; 7:30 p.m. July 28, Common Good Books, St. Paul; 9 a.m. July 29, Lake Country Booksellers, White Bear Lake. Visit www.juliekramerbooks.com

    WHOSE HAND?

    By: Judith Yates Borger.

    Publisher: Nodin Press, 212 pages, $16.95.

    Events: Launch party, 7 p.m. Aug. 24, Once Upon a Crime, Mpls.; 2 p.m. Aug. 27, Valley Booksellers, Stillwater; 7 p.m. Aug. 31, Common Good Books, St. Paul. Visit www.judithyatesborger.com

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