Stalking Susan

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“Write what you know.” is a quote I thought was from Stephen King, but is actually from Mark Twain. Basically, write about a subject that you’re interested in, passionate about or something like that. News producer-turned-novelist Julie Kramer wrote a book about a broadcast journalist following a mystery in her debut novel of Stalking Susan. 

Riley Spartz works as a reporter for Channel 3, an affiliate station in the St. Paul, Minnesota area. Bored with her assignments and still coping with the recent death of her husband, that all changes when a source of hers drops a cold case file in her lap. The case involves a serial killer who has murdered women named Susan over the course of several years. Riley works to piece together the cases and find the common link between them.

Since Kramer is herself a news producer, her inside knowledge of the business helped her write Riley as a realistic character. She (Riley) describes working with her photographer, assignment editor, news director and the CEO of the station. Having interned at a news station myself, I could easily visualize the characters. I liked how Kramer took the time to describe the people who are essential to the news business. All viewers usually see are the anchors and reporters, but it takes an army of people to successfully create a television broadcast. Terminology used in the news business is also mentioned.

I would classify the story as a whodunit mystery from the perspective of broadcast journalism. In a way, reporters are like detectives when they investigate stories and get to the bottom of a lead. Riley works to solve the mystery by making profile boards, doing research and so on, similar to a detective. As some who’s obsessed with Law & Order, reading a mystery from the perspective of a civilian was different, although Riley does consult her cop friend for some help.

There is more to the story than the mystery though. Riley is also navigating life as a young widow after the untimely death of her husband. The memories she has sometimes affects her actions. This added depth to her character, and shows that there can be a whole story and person behind the reporter and anchors you see on the television news. Their lives are not flawless.

I recommend this novel to anyone who wants a fresh take on the mystery genre.

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What Lies Behind

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Used book sales are usually places to find books that might be older, or even out of print. In this case, though, I found this novel that was published just last year.

J.T. Ellison’s thriller What Lies Behind follows Dr. Samantha “Sam” Owens, a medical examiner and college professor, who lives in Washington, D.C. When an undercover FBI agent is found murdered and an ex-medical student severely injured in a Georgetown apartment, Dr. Owens is called in to examine the scene by her friend, homicide detective Darren Fletcher. It’s soon discovered that the FBI undercover was investigating a much larger conspiracy involving bioterrorism that could threaten the entire population. Sam and Fletcher must figure out who is behind the conspiracy in a matter of hours.

Being that this novel combined two huge interests of mine, Washington D.C. and police work, the story instantly appealed to me. The writing is in third person, but the chapters change perspective, following not only Sam’s actions but also the activities of another FBI agent, and, in some cases, the perpetrators. This sort of writing style gives the characters and stories more depth since we get the chance to see what they are thinking and feeling.

Another element I enjoyed was its setting of the city where I currently live. Ellison’s descriptions of the District were very vivid and accurate; I could easily imagine where these characters were going in almost every scene. It wasn’t surprising to find out that Ellison had once worked in the White House and lived in the city. I liked reading a crime story that was set in the nation’s capital as opposed to the common settings of New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles (at least for those popular crime shows.)

I definitely recommend this novel to anybody who likes a crime or thriller story, or is an avid fan of the Law & Order series. This novel is actually the fourth in a series, and I plan to check out the preceding books in the near future.

Liars, Inc.

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Liars, Inc. is one of those books takes a completely different turn than what you would expect.

This novel, written by American author Paula Stokes, is told from the first-person perspective of Max Cantrell, a high school senior who lives in California. He spends most of his time hanging out with his two best friends- girlfriend Parvati and popular Preston. The three of them come up with the idea to sell alibis and lies to their classmates- starting Liars, Inc. When Preston asks Max to cover for him one night, the seemingly simple plan turns into a complicated police case when Preston goes missing and the FBI begins to question Max.

I initially thought that this novel was going to be the standard book about a high school plot gone wrong. I didn’t expect it to be a crime thriller novel involving life-or-death situations, police chases and firearms. As an avid fan of the Law & Order television series, the story took on the aura of an episode. I appreciate how Stokes diversified her genre- choosing to write a more serious novel, compared to the light nature of The Art of Lainey. 

Max is an interesting character. After his parents both died when he was young, he was adopted after spending a year on the streets. The survival instincts he learned as a kid made his experiences throughout the novel fascinating. His narrative fits in with the fast-paced action and twists and turns.

Overall, I recommend this novel to those who like mysteries and twists involving high school students.