Kramer's latest Riley Sparks mystery--set in Amish country-- keeps you guessing.
When reviewing a novel built around a character who has appeared in previous books by the same author, the concern becomes how to satisfy readers of those previous books as well as newcomers.
Fortunately, Twin Cities-area novelist Julie Kramer constructs her Riley Spartz series so that readers of the previous four novels and first-timers can enjoy with equal ardor. Yes, there are references in "Shunning Sarah" to earlier adventures (all with alliterative titles) by the Minneapolis/St. Paul-based television journalist protagonist. Those references are especially meaningful to previous readers but not off-putting to rookies.
Herself an experienced television journalist, Kramer sets the new novel in rural southeastern Minnesota, in a county populated by characters of the Amish faith. The murder victim is an 18-year-old female found by a 10-year-old boy who slips into a sinkhole common to the terrain. Talented mystery novelists offer a degree of verisimilitude by grounding their books in reality; Kramer's research into the Amish realm is impressive and integrated skillfully into the plot. As always, Kramer is informative about television news, the ways of Minnesota, and the inner life of a widowed professional woman.
The only significant flaw arrives in the final quarter of the novel, when it takes an unexpected turn (calling it a "false ending" does not give away too much). The plot then unfolds at such a breakneck pace that the necessary suspended disbelief of readers might fray. Fray, not break. Kramer's fifth novel remains worthy, just like its predecessors.