Missing Mark

( 21 )

Overview

From the award-winning author of Stalking Susan, TV reporter Riley Spartz returns in another breathtaking, furiously-paced thriller.
 
When Riley Spartz sees a want ad reading “Wedding Dress for Sale: Never Worn,” she finds a jilted bride unsure whether her groom got cold feet or has become a cold case himself.  Her betrothed, Mark, last seen at the rehearsal dinner, never showed up for the wedding, humiliating his bride, ...
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Overview

From the award-winning author of Stalking Susan, TV reporter Riley Spartz returns in another breathtaking, furiously-paced thriller.
 
When Riley Spartz sees a want ad reading “Wedding Dress for Sale: Never Worn,” she finds a jilted bride unsure whether her groom got cold feet or has become a cold case himself.  Her betrothed, Mark, last seen at the rehearsal dinner, never showed up for the wedding, humiliating his bride, Madeline—and her high-strung, high-society mother—in front of 300 guests. When Riley’s curious missing person case leads to a dangerous murder investigation, she discovers a startling motive for Mark’s disappearance.  Riley now has a TV exclusive guaranteed to win the ratings . . . if she lives to report it.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A suspenseful story with a wonderful heroine, and it keeps the reader guessing until the final pages. . . . If you enjoy Sue Grafton’s alphabet series with Kinsey Millhone, or Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books, you will enjoy Missing Mark.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Smart dialogue and a fleet pace make this second outing . . . a crowd-pleaser.” —People
 
“A fast pace, a smart heroine, and fresh voice. Julie Kramer has what it takes to keep readers turning pages.” —Tami Hoag
 
“Entertaining and intriguing. . . . Kramer’s characters, plotting and pace are spot-on.” —RT Book Reviews

“Julie Kramer has proven that she has what it takes. Her books are light but a bit edgy and her heroine is fun, spunky, and completely loveable.” —BookBitch
 
“Riley Spartz is at it again—digging up news and looking for ratings.” —St. Paul Pioneer Press
 
“Kramer fills Missing Mark with wonderful characters and a story that never quits. A new star in the mystery skies, Kramer will be one to watch as she gets better with each book.” —Crimespree Magazine

“The sense of place is wonderful, and Riley is a person it is easy to ‘root’ for. It’s easy to see why this author received first mystery award nominations.” —Deadly Pleasures Magazine
 
“If you liked Jon Hassler’s take on central Minnesota in Staggerford; if you liked Thomas Gifford’s take on Taylor’s Falls in The Wind Chill Factor, if you liked Mary Logue’s picture of river rats along the St. Croix, you’ll enjoy Kramer’s informed look into the nuts and bolts and screw-ups of our news media.” —River Falls Journal

“Kramer has written a very enjoyable mystery. . . . Riley is an interesting character, a woman I think I’d like to know. . . . I am looking forward to reading more about Riley and her adventures.” —P.J. Coldren, Reviewing the Evidence
 
“Slick. . . . [A] fun mystery thriller.” —Publishers Weekly

Nicely done. . . . [Kramer] nails everything from the interaction between on-air talent and producers to all the showbiz hustle that goes into grabbing ratings. . . . [Riley Spartz is] a likable heroine in an intriguing profession.” —Kirkus

“Issues of class, complications of a rare medical condition, and elements of romance add to the interest of this sequel, which has a surprising final twist and a neatly satisfying ending.  Kramer has a winning series here.” —Booklist

Publishers Weekly

A for-sale ad for a never worn wedding dress sparks Minneapolis TV reporter Riley Spartz to chase an intriguing story in Kramer's slick sequel to 2008's Stalking Susan. Wealthy Madeleine Post's comedian fiancé, Mark Lefevre, didn't show up for their lavish White Bear Lake wedding and hasn't been seen since. Is Mark, who looks like Groucho Marx, a runaway groom or a crime victim? A few days after Riley interviews Mark's mother, Jean, the mother apparently shoots herself in the head, though the suicide note found at the scene is, oddly, in Mark's handwriting. Riley's discovery of Madeleine's rare disease-prosopagnosia (the inability to recognize faces), which also afflicts Madeleine's mother-adds a neat twist. Meanwhile, Riley is also under pressure to pursue a big story about the theft of Big Mouth Billy Bass, the Minnesota record largemouth bass, from a mall aquarium. Kramer makes the most of a clever, if far-fetched, idea in this fun mystery thriller. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

"For Sale: Wedding dress. Never worn." This classified ad piques the curiosity of investigative reporter Riley Spartz in this sequel to Stalking Susan. She delves deeper, hoping the story will boost network ratings during the May sweeps, but her relentless quest for a feature report on the runaway groom ensnares her in a missing-persons case fraught with deceit, mystery, and danger. Is the groom who left his socialite fiancA©e at the altar in hiding, reconciled with a past lover, or murdered? Riley's interviews with members of the wedding party uncover a multitude of secrets, causing the situation to spiral out of control. Meanwhile, competing assignments find Riley exposing a meth operation that hits close to home and involved in a high-profile search for a famous missing fish. Readers who can tolerate a slow start will be rewarded as the book progresses. Once it picks up momentum, it never stops, and the twists and turns keep the adrenalin racing. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/1/09.]
—Mary Todd Chesnut

Kirkus Reviews
TV investigative reporter Riley Spartz has an instinct about stories, and the unexplained disappearance of a groom-to-be gets her juices flowing. Sidelined for months after her first stab at crime-solving (Stalking Susan, 2008), Spartz now faces the all-important May sweeps period without the kind of attention-grabbing story that could secure her position at Minneapolis's Channel 3. Worse, her cold-blooded boss wants to demote her from serious investigations to spot news, the kind of brainless accident reporting Spartz believed she left behind. Stuck for a story, she finds herself looking into the sale of a never-worn wedding dress and is compelled by the mystery of why a struggling comedian would ditch one of the Twin Cities' wealthiest heiresses. But while the seemingly jilted bride wants to find out what happened to her missing love, her mother's reluctance may have more to do with guilt than with a highbrow desire to stay out of the spotlight. The author keeps the pace hopping, despite the apparently noncriminal nature of the misdeed, and provides plenty of clues (Spartz's inability to see even fairly obvious ones is the book's main weak point). A subplot on meth addiction adds a more serious note. The real draw continues to be the backstage view of the TV-news business offered by producer Kramer, who nails everything from the interaction between on-air talent and producers to all the showbiz hustle that goes into grabbing ratings, even when the story doesn't justify the fuss. There's nothing new happening here, but Spartz is engaging, and Kramer gives her just enough guts and ambition. Nicely done, if not groundbreaking, with a likable heroine in an intriguing profession.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307388520
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/22/2010
  • Series: Riley Spartz Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 307,695
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Julie Kramer
Julie Kramer is a freelance network news producer.  She formerly ran WCCO-TV’s nationally award-winning investigative unit in Minneapolis.  Her debut thriller, Stalking Susan, won the Minnesota Book Award and the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best First Mystery and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Anthony Award.  She lives with her family in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
 
www.juliekramerbooks.com
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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

My past sold quickly, despite the down market.

Of course, no one actually died under my roof. Just a couple of near-miss murders that my real estate agent assured me didn't need to be disclosed to potential buyers.

But now I needed to move fast and she promised me this was the place. "I have a feeling about you and this remodeled bungalow," Jan Meyer said. "The owner is anxious to leave town and just dropped the price twenty grand."

Jan enjoyed playing matchmaker between buyer and seller. Especially since she knew I'd made a killing on my own real estate deal and had plenty of cash to put down. So she took the key out of the lockbox and prepared to give me the tour.

"You might just fall in love with the kitchen," she said.

Not love at first smell. The house had a definite odor. And it didn't seem to be coming from the kitchen.

While Jan went to open some windows, I followed my nose to a closed door where the smell seemed strongest. Journalists prefer open doors. So I turned the knob and peeked inside. Then quickly slammed it shut before any flies could escape.

"What is that horrible smell?" Jan asked.

"I think it might be the owner."

"Is he dead?" she gasped.

I nodded as I headed back outside to call the police from my cell phone.

"Did he have a heart attack?" Jan followed behind, anxious for details.

"In a manner of speaking."

I hadn't gotten close to the man on the floor. But I could see the congealed pool of blood around his body and the knife sticking out of his chest.

That's when I decided to keep renting.

CHAPTER 2

Some days I wish I could just write about sweaters. After all, sweaters never hurt anyone. And no reporter ever got kidnapped, blindfolded, and paraded in front of Al Jazeera's audience for writing for Vogue. Of course, no sweater ever got a gold-medal 40 share in TV ratings either. Except perhaps Kathleen Sullivan's figure-hugging crew necks during the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

Sweaters are the mashed potatoes and gravy of a woman's wardrobe--the ultimate comfort clothing--unless gravy accidentally drips onto a pricey cashmere. But I was nowhere near the kitchen, so I could safely curl up in a hand-knit sweater of scratchy wool looking out an upstairs window at a narrow view of White Bear Lake. I don't actually live on the lake, but if I angle my chair and crane my neck just right, I can watch the whitecaps and fishermen on the legendary water.

I'm Riley Spartz, an investigative reporter for Channel 3 in Minneapolis. Close to five months ago I fled my highly sought-after urban neighborhood for a fresh start after a TV sweeps story went bad. Lakeshore homes in this northern Twin Cities suburb go for a million bucks plus, but the rest of the town is quite affordable.

My landlord recently moved out, listing this place for rent because his next-door neighbor held perpetual yard sales that attracted traffic at annoying times. Always looking for a bargain, I'd even checked out the inventory myself, but found only overpriced junk.

Today I paged through the weekly White Bear Press, delighted by irksome crimes that wouldn't merit a mention on a major-market TV newscast. Nothing makes a woman living alone feel safer than reading police reports about teens caught smoking behind the school and bicycles stolen from open garages.

A want ad for an item I definitely wasn't looking to buy caught my eye and my imagination.

FOR SALE: WEDDING DRESS. NEVER WORN

Mystery and emotion, all in one line.

Forget sweaters. A wedding dress is much more likely to garner a 40 share. Viewers love weddings. The research proves it.

In the world of television ratings, two weddings stand out. And both brides would probably have been happier if their wedding dresses had never been worn.

In 1969, when Miss Vicki married Tiny Tim on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, 45 million viewers made that episode the highest rated in talk-show history.

That was nothing compared to the wedding of the century. A dozen years later 750 million viewers worldwide watched as Prince Charles and Lady Diana promised to forsake all others. That royal wedding delivered royal ratings, but ultimately royal scandal. The bride and groom learned (as I reluctantly learned from my own brief marriage) no "I do" guarantees happily ever after.

When it comes to TV weddings, happiness and ratings may be mutually exclusive. While Prince Charles's sequel ceremony to Camilla Parker Bowles tanked in the ratings department, the marriage seems to be thriving in the happiness arena.

Now TV weddings are typically interactive events, like the Today show where viewers choose gowns, cakes, rings and honeymoon destinations for the happy couple, or reality shows, like The Bachelor, in which grooms propose marriage before our voyeuristic eyes.

I circled the "Never Worn" want ad with a red pen and pondered whether the story behind the wedding dress might be worth a television news story.

Perhaps a lesson about love and loss, if I could sort through the he said/she said of a broken engagement. Was the big day called off because of a tragic parachuting accident? A philandering groom caught with a bridesmaid after the rehearsal dinner? Or perhaps a wedding guest revealed a juicy secret when the minister inquired whether anyone knew any reason why this man and this woman should not be joined in holy matrimony.

Doubtful that the truth would prove as irresistible as the scenarios in my mind, but maybe the story could be a lesson about second chances if the gown made it successfully down the aisle on the back of a new bride.

As an investigative reporter, I seldom get a chance to tell love stories.

The May ratings book loomed, just on the fringe of the June wedding season. A tantalizing tale of doomed courtship might spike the overnight news numbers. The Channel 3 bosses were always anxious this time of year because the May sweeps were arguably the most important--Christmas holiday ad rates are based on those figures. Jingle all the way.

I had no blockbuster investigation up my sweater sleeve this sweeps. I'd sat out the February ratings book because I was a mess personally and the November book remained an unpleasant reminder of my blood, sweat, and tears.

My hypothetical wedding-dress chronicle was unlikely to require a major investment of time or money, so if the backstory was compelling, Channel 3's news director, Noreen Banks, would probably give me a green light. Another reason: we had a mandate from the suits upstairs to attract more women viewers because advertisers think they control the household cash.

In May, Minnesota ladies also control the TV remote, because fishing season opens and their menfolk flock to boats like ducks to water. Noreen might certainly seize this wedding-dress opportunity to throw the big bosses upstairs a bouquet... I mean a bone.

So I reached for the phone to dial the number in the "Never Worn" newspaper ad to find out who dumped who.

****

"You look beautiful," Madeline Post said as I twirled this way and that in front of a full-length mirror in her little-girl-pink bedroom.

I hadn't intended to try on the gown. But when she insisted, it did occur to me that it would be harder for Madeline to kick me out the door when she learned I was a reporter if the garment was literally on my back.

The dress looked even better up close than on the e-mail fashion photo she'd sent me the previous night. The kind of dress a fairy-tale princess might wear. Satin. White. Strapless. Fitted at the waist with a ball-gown skirt that flared at my hips. Interesting sparkles around the bustline. The dress accentuated my figure, decent but not voluptuous. And it contrasted nicely with my brown shoulder-skimming hair. I'd checked the designer's reputation online and knew this almost bride had spent nearly fifteen grand on her dream dress.

Not exactly. Her mother had actually written the check. Because, according to Madeline, it was her mother's dream dress.

"She wanted me to look like Cinderella," Madeline explained. "But I wanted an outdoor wedding and would have been happy wearing a sundress or even jeans."

"Why didn't you tell her?"

"The big wedding meant the world to her. Because she compromised on having the ceremony outside, I compromised on the dress. And she's done so much to raise me and my brother after our dad died."

Because I was trying to pose as someone other than a reporter--a self-absorbed bride, in fact--I didn't follow up on that nugget, though I was quite curious to learn more about her father's death.

Besides checking out Madeline's dress, I'd also checked out Madeline and her fiancŽ, Mark Lefevre. Or rather, I had Lee Xiong, our newsroom computer geek, check them out with a crime database he'd assembled from several law enforcement and court agencies. Xiong came to the United States as a toddler refugee from Laos. He flourished in Minnesota, despite his parents' poverty and the state's winters, and became a respected producer at Channel 3.

His cyber report showed the bride had a clean record here in the state, while the groom had been picked up on a minor marijuana possession charge a decade earlier that netted nothing more serious than a small fine and the requirement that he attend drug-education classes.

Madeline's place was not far from mine. I'd left her name, phone number, and address with Xiong along with instructions for him to call the cops if he didn't hear from me in three hours.

Normally I wouldn't have hesitated answering her ad alone, but the recent Craigslist nanny murder--in which a disturbed young man posed as a local mother in need of child care before killing the coed who answered the ad--did cross my mind and made me more cautious than usual about meeting strangers in nonpublic places.

Those precautions might not save my life, but they'd make it easier to find my body if things got ugly. And this way my parents could console themselves with the knowledge that at least they were able to give me a Decent Christian Burial. And I could console myself that at least my murder would lead the late news although I wouldn't put it past Channel 3 to bump me down to the second section just so the station had something lurid to tease at the top of the show and again at the first break to hold viewers into the second quarter hour of the newscast.

I'd found Madeline and Mark's engagement announcement and photo online. At twentyfour, she was ten years younger than her fiancŽ. Her face pretty, not stunning. Her most noticeable feature, her splendid golden hair, long and flowing.

The first thing I observed about Mark was an odd, diagonal scar across his forehead. Not a lightning bolt like Harry Potter's, yet still mysterious in this age in which plastic surgery can fix most facial flaws. Mark's hair was dark, frizzy, and shoulder-length, and he had black Groucho Marx eyebrows and mustache.

She was beauty to his beast.

I read that he was a comedian and I wondered if that was supposed to be a joke or a euphemism for unemployed. Especially when I saw that Madeline came from   M-O-N-E-Y. Big money. Old money. Trust-fund money. Her great-great-grandfather on her mother's side had been a founding partner of one of Minnesota's Fortune 500 companies--a maker of countless useful office products and industrial items most folks take for granted. Her mother was sitting on an impressive pile of family money and company stock. So when Madeline spoke of all her mother had done to raise her, well, she wasn't describing working a shift job and stretching a baked chicken over an extra meal.

Which made me mildly curious just why she was selling her never-worn wedding gown. And extremely curious why it was never worn to begin with.

"So what do you think?" Madeline asked, startling me out of my internal dialogue. "How about two thousand dollars?"

It was a steal at that price. But my bridal days were over and it was time to level with her.

"You see, Madeline," I began.

"Okay, fifteen hundred."

While she came from money, it was quite possible the young Miss Post might not have actual access to it yet, or might even have run through her share already. But she clearly wanted the dress gone. And a minute later, after I explained who I was, she wanted me gone, too.

I'm generally considered among the best-known TV reporters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, so I was surprised, yet pleased, when Madeline didn't recognize me right away at the door. Not everyone watches the news, I reminded myself, as she now fumed visibly.

"You're a reporter?" Madeline's voice trembled with outrage and her wide blue eyes got wider. "I thought you were interested in the dress."

"I am interested," I assured her. "I think the dress might make a great story."

"A story?" She threw open the door and waved me out of her condo with all the gusto I had anticipated. I turned and asked if she minded unzipping me first.

"Think of it as a free television ad," I said. "Soon as we get that dress on the late news, you'll have a bidding war."

That image stopped her. She shut the door.

"Do you think I care about the money?"

Madeline buried her face in her hands and started to cry. Tears made her engagement ring sparkle like the diamond it was--a real big one, at least two carats. Between sobs, she grabbed me like the sister I wasn't and dripped wet splotches all over the expensive satin dress that still clung to my figure.

I generally don't like people I don't know touching me. But I didn't say anything because I sensed Madeline's embrace meant she would soon share her deepest secret.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Which missing people cases catch your attention? Are you more interested in cases involving missing men or missing women? Do you think the media covers too many cases, or not enough? How important is it to the storyline that Mark is the central focus of the case, rather than Madeline?

2. What do you think about the use of face blindness as a character trait for Madeline?  How does it contribute to her grief over Mark's disappearance?  Were Madeline not to have suffered from prosopagnosia, do you think she still would have been attracted to Mark? What did they have in common?

3. How might prosopagnosia hamper your own ability to function socially? Madeline seems to value her independence more than her mother–did Vivian make herself a crutch for Madeline, especially with Mark? Why do you think Vivian really killed Mark—love, hate, or jealousy?

4. Have you or someone you know ever sold a wedding dress, or ever thought about it? What might make you do so? Would you ever wear a wedding dress worn by someone else? Would you wear Madeline’s dress after knowing the circumstances of it never being worn?

5. What do you think of the use of a TV newsroom as the setting for MISSING MARK? Does learning how a newsroom works make you distrust reporters or sympathize with them? Does the first-person insight into Riley’s personal life influence your reaction?

6. Do you think that it is a good idea for Riley to become so friendly with Madeline? From the beginning, Riley seems to be entering the friendship under false pretenses (just to get more scoop for her story), but as their relationship progresses, do you think that Riley really wants to be friends with Madeline? Does Madeline need Riley as a friend just as much or more so than Riley needs Madeline for her story?

7. What is the significance of Garnett’s re-appearance in MISSING MARK? Is he a missed opportunity or a regret for Riley? Do you think Riley knows what kind of relationship she wants with Garnett? What is your reaction to this romantic thread in the narrative?

8. If one of the regular supporting characters in the Riley Spartz series—Noreen, Garnett, Shep, Toby, Xiong–had to be killed off, who do you think would be the most appropriate to sacrifice? Is it because you see a definite end to their plotline or do you think that their death would cause the start of another thrilling case for Riley?

9. Does Riley Spartz remind you of any well-known news reporters or fictionalized investigative reporters? How do you respond to her tenacious reporting style? Does Riley’s no-holds-barred attitude lead her into unnecessary trouble and comprising situations or is it what makes her so successful?

10. Riley doesn’t seem to have a lot of strong female friendships. At times, her relationship with Shep seems to be stronger than those she has with actual people. Do you agree? If so, why do you think this is so? Is Riley’s career to blame?

11. If you could choose a character in this book to be named after you, which would you choose?  Do you particularly identify with any of the characters? Is there one you'd definitely not want your name associated with?

12. In a mystery novel, how important is the “Why Done It” in a “Who Done It?”

13. Does the disappearance of Big Mouth Billy Bass mirror Mark’s disappearance in any way? What similarities and differences in motive are there? Why do you think animal cases are always on file with Riley? Do they carry more of a human interest factor? As you learn more about Mark’s character, do you find that you are more concerned about both the well being of Shep and Big Mouth Billy than about Mark?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

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Customer Reviews

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( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2012

    It's good, but not my favorite

    I have just started reading Julie Kramer's books and enjoyed them so far. Missing Mark is interesting in parts, but I have had trouble staying interested in this one. I will still keep reading them though.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2011

    Great author - Great book!

    Just finished reading Missing Mark and am looking forward to reading Julie Kramer's next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2011

    Fun Summer Read

    This was a great book with adventure around every corner. It's a light read and is a lot of fun. I love the main character, her sense of humor always makes me laugh. She seems like someone I'd like to have coffee with although it better be in a public location because she attracts a lot of trouble!

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  • Posted July 5, 2010

    A fun sequel to Stalking Susan!

    This is Julie Kramer's second novel and another fun-filled thriller. It once again brings you into the world of TV news reporting. Kramer's character, Riley Spartz, hits the investigative trail to report on a missing groom after coming across an ad in the newspaper for a wedding dress for sale that has never been worn. She learns that the groom hadn't shown up for the wedding several months before. Riley sets out to find out what happened to him. As in her previous book, she is also following another news story, and this time it involves a large bass stolen from the Mall of America aquarium. There is plenty of suspense to keep the reader interested. I finished the book in one day!

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