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Stalking Susan

Stalking Susan

4.0 39
by Julie Kramer

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Inside the desperate world of TV news, a reporter discovers a serial killer is targeting women named Susan.Riley Spartz is recovering from a heartbreaking, headline-making catastrophe of her own when a Minneapolis police source drops two homicide files in her lap.Both cold cases involve women named Susan strangled on the same day, one year apart. Riley sees a pattern


Inside the desperate world of TV news, a reporter discovers a serial killer is targeting women named Susan.Riley Spartz is recovering from a heartbreaking, headline-making catastrophe of her own when a Minneapolis police source drops two homicide files in her lap.Both cold cases involve women named Susan strangled on the same day, one year apart. Riley sees a pattern between those murders and others pulled from old death records. As the deadly anniversary approaches, she stages a bold on-air stunt to draw the killer out and uncover a motive that will leave readers breathless.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Dazzling…. Readers who enjoy Janet Evanovich will soon be stalking Julie Kramer.”
Chicago Tribune

“A rocking good story…. Chilling, twisty, and clever.”
—Kathy Reichs

“A snappily paced debut thriller.... Truly scary no matter what your name is.”

“Riley Spartz is a classic spunky investigator. She'll have readers cheering for her gutsy determination to stop the killings and boost her ratings.”
USA Today

Stalking Susan is a fantastic debut. Julie Kramer has crafted a thriller that will get your heart racing.”
—Vince Flynn

Publishers Weekly

Kramer's impressive debut, a thriller, introduces Riley Spartz, a Twin Cities investigative TV journalist. Riley's favorite source, a former Minneapolis homicide detective, suspects a serial killer is behind two cold murder cases of women named Susan strangled on November 19 one year apart. Still grieving for her late patrolman husband, Riley relishes the distraction of a possible hot story. After discovering that a raincoat links the two victims, one a 26-year-old waitress, the other a teen prostitute, Riley unearths other cases that may fit the pattern, including the apparently solved murder of a former Miss Duluth and the suspicious suicide of a terminally ill woman. Kramer, a freelance television producer, delivers more than another ho-hum remix of a 48 Hours episode thanks to a snappy subplot-Riley's exposure of a bad veterinarian doing scam pet cremations. Readers will look forward to seeing a lot more of the appealing Riley, who cares about justice as much as snagging at least a 40 audience share. (July)

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

First-time author Kramer uses her insider knowledge as a freelance news producer for the Today Show and Dateline to take the reader into the competitive world of the Minneapolis local television news scene. Reporter Riley Spartz isn't sure she's ready to return to work after a personal tragedy, but when a source (literally) drops an investigation into her lap, she decides now may be the time. The cold case involves the murder of two different women named Susan. Both were strangled on the same date, one year apart. As Riley delves further, she finds there are other Susans who have been killed in other years. Upping the ante is the approach of the anniversary; adding to the pressure for Riley is the sweeps drive for ratings at her station and a news director who thinks a story about the fraudulent disposal of dead dogs will be more interesting than a far-fetched story about murdered Susans. Though the climax of the mystery stretched credulity a bit, this is a fast-paced and nicely characterized debut that will appeal to fans of Linda Fairstein and Laura Lippman. Recommended for all public libraries.
—Jane Jorgenson

Kirkus Reviews
Two cold cases spark a hot story for flailing TV reporter Riley Spartz in this lively and fast-paced debut. Spartz isn't your typical TV newswoman. Although she's as driven and fast-driving as any of her competitors, she's been sidelined by more than ratings. Her Minnesota state trooper husband was killed in the line of duty, a tragedy that has caused Spartz to take time off just when she should be renegotiating her contract. Then a friendly source, an ex-homicide cop, drops a potential story in her lap. It concerns a possible serial killer who has already killed two young women named Susan on the exact same date, one year apart. The problem is, those murders were years ago, and Spartz must dig through databases to see if the killings have continued and if other young women are at risk. The all-important November ratings are coming up, as is the anniversary of the murders, and Spartz must take seriously her contact's hunch-that the killer could be a cop-if she's going to get the story and save some lives. Kramer writes with heart and pizzazz, and her believable heroine makes the well-worn concept feel fresh. Kramer's past as a TV producer lends authority to an entertaining story. Agent: Elaine Koster/Elaine Koster Agency

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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4.22(w) x 6.96(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt


So the deal is this--any cop who tickets me for a moving violation, gets an "attaboy" from the chief and a day off duty, off the books. To their credit, most cops know this is not fair play, but there's still enough of them out there who like the idea of a day off without their wives knowing about it that I keep a close eye on my rearview mirror and a light foot on my accelerator, careful not to let the speedometer of my Mustang sneak past thirty.

I've been on guard against Minneapolis cops since the police chief put a bounty on my "pretty little head" two years ago. He was good and pissed after I did a TV story about some of his officers sleeping in movie theaters and hanging out in strip clubs instead of patrolling the downtown streets. He got even more pissed when I reported other cops falsifying overtime after a tornado blew through town. You'd think by now the man's job would be on the line, but the chief apparently knows some dark secret about the mayor, who reappoints him to a new term every three years.
I knew all this from a source I was rushing to meet.

When the public thinks source, they think Deep Throat. Don't get me wrong, for a journalist, a high-level source is the ultimate rush. But you can't spend your news career waiting for a mysterious cliche in a trench coat to whisper state secrets. A low-level source with remarkable access can do almost as much damage. Give me a secretary with a straight-and-narrow conscience, working for a boss with a crooked soul, and I'll give you a lead story for the late news.
What bosses don't understand is that whistle-blowers don't call reporters first. They call us last. Only when they are completely disillusioned by the knowledge that going through the system doesn't work do they turn to us: the media. That's when we turn scandal into ratings and ratings into money. If I sound jaded, that's a shameful, recent development.

I hit the gas. Speed down the freeway ramp off Lyndale Avenue and onto the interstate. Here's where I make up lost time. City police don't usually make traffic stops on freeways and I'm not worried about the State Patrol. More than a year ago, I became untouchable in Minnesota. Every State Patrol officer from International Falls to the Iowa border knows my name and face. If I'm inadvertently stopped, they apologize sincerely and send me on my way.

My name is Riley Spartz. I'm a television reporter for Channel 3. I'm thirty-six years old, but on a good day I look a decade younger. A big plus in a cutthroat business. Beyond the obvious advantage of youth meaning a longer shelf life, strangers tend to underestimate me--thus I've broken more than my share of exclusives and won more than my share of awards. But none of that matters when contract time comes around. Then, all any news director wants to know is "What have you done for me lately?" Being objective, I have to admit, lately I haven't done shit.
When I first started out in this business, I considered news the stuff that happens to other people. I know better now. I understand why some folks consider news just another four-letter word.

I was across the Mississippi River and had already claimed the back row of seats when Nick Garnett walked in the Highland Theater in St. Paul. I gave him the aisle since his legs are longer. The afternoon matinee wasn't scheduled to begin for a half hour so the theater was empty.

"Been waiting long?" he asked.

"A few minutes."

"Sorry. I got lost on the way." A top Minneapolis homicide detective, Garnett was more talented at telling good from evil than north from south.

"Why did we have to meet all the way over here?" I asked.

"So we won't run into anybody who knows us."

The overhead lights dimmed on the art deco decor but only Garnett's boss would consider our meeting illicit.

"Unfortunately that rules out all the fancy-pants hot spots where you like to hang out," he continued.

"It also rules out all the dives where you mooch free food 'cause you're a cop."
I'm always surprised how many restaurants will trade coffee and a burger for police presence.

"Not for long."

Garnett had a big retirement bash set for tonight. I wasn't invited, though we'd known each other nearly half his career. For the best sources, public credit can be hazardous to their jobs. Garnett didn't relish being reassigned to rounding up drunks for detox, so our friendship remained our secret.
We'd first met when I was a rookie reporter covering a small-town fire in southern Minnesota. The blaze started in an apartment building and consumed city hall, a hardware store, and the town diner before firefighters got it under control. Ends up, the local police chief set the fire so he could rescue his girlfriend, who lived in an upstairs apartment.

She'd dumped him the weekend before and he figured playing hero might win her back. The plan was ending as happily as a fairy tale, except that a security camera mounted on the service station across the street recorded video of the chief carrying a gas can into the apartments moments before the blaze began. Garnett had slapped the cuffs on his boss and done a perp parade in front of the courthouse. A couple years later, Garnett took a street job in Minneapolis, moving up the ranks to homicide.

"I still don't see why I can't come to your party," I said. "I'd like a chance to roast you and toast you. What are they going to do if I show up? Fire you?"

"I don't need the grief."

He'd had enough of the inside politics involved in fighting big-city crime. Garnett had landed a lucrative private sector job as head of corporate security for the Mall of America out in Bloomington. So at age fifty, still in decent physical shape, and with just barely graying hair, he was taking an early retirement package. It came with a cushy public sector pension.

"I'm leaving at the top of my game," he said. "I don't need any whispers. I don't need any finger-pointing. And I sure as hell don't need my new bosses knowing about you." He gave me a look that meant he meant business. "And from now on you can leave your hidden camera home when you step on my turf."

"What? The Mall of America is my favorite undercover shopping spot."

The Mall of America is the largest indoor shopping complex in the world. Something like 520 stores. Fifty restaurants. Fourteen movie screens. Very upscale. Minnesota-based Northwest Airlines even offers special rates for day trips so shopaholics from as far away as Tokyo can afford to fly in for a holiday spending spree. An added bonus: no sales tax on clothing purchased in Minnesota.

I used the mall as a backdrop for several consumer investigative stories. I often shoot undercover video with a hidden camera, just one of the modern tools of the TV trade not available to Edward R. Murrow. Early on, I'd mounted a bulky black-and-white camera in an oversized briefcase. Next came a lipstick lens in a Coach purse. But technology improved so much that now I'm able to shoot color video with a pinhole-size lens hidden in an ink pen, watch, brooch, button, or even a pair of glasses.
A wire runs from the lens to a small video recorder I carry in a fanny pack around my waist. I tape a tiny microphone to the V of my bra. I'm a B cup, ample enough to hide the mike, but not so voluptuous that the audio is muffled. Luck and a whole lot of duct tape keep the operation inconspicuous. I was not eager to give up the Mall of America. So I told him that.

"Yeah, but I gotta show I'm doing something," Garnett said, "so in addition to increasing security, I'm going to cut down on negative publicity about the mall. Besides, you're going to be too busy working on your next big scoop to have time for stories about shoppers being cheated out of a nickel."

"Hey! That pricing error story was good TV. It won a lot of awards. My motto is, if you can show ten thousand folks getting cheated out of a nickel, that's as good as showing one guy getting bilked out of five hundred big ones. Also more relevant to a wider audience. Anyway, I don't have a next big scoop."

"You do now." He pulled a fat file from his briefcase. By now other movie patrons were shuffling around, looking for seats. I considered pretending to make out with Garnett so no one would want to sit by us, but he definitely wasn't my type, plus that could create a whole new set of problems.
We both acted like we were getting together to celebrate his new job, but we both knew he was there to prop me up. This was no business meeting. This was one friend healing another's pain. My career was in the toilet. Going from star to slacker wasn't working for me, and Garnett could tell.
"I know it's not the same, Riley, but you helped me through my divorce when things got wacko. I'd like to help you." He paused, then said with exaggerated emphasis, "After all, tomorrow is another day."

"Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind, 1939," I answered.

Garnett and I were both film buffs and occasionally met in shadowy theaters to pass documents and catch an action flick or drama. Never a date movie. We'd developed a routine of him weaving famous movie lines into our conversations, and me guessing the actor, picture, and year. Not as difficult as it sounds, because I associate films with historical and breaking news events. For example, Gone With the Wind debuted the year Germany invaded Poland. And Stand by Me came out the same year the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

Our rule to avoid reruns: no matter how appropriate the circumstance, Garnett can utter a line only once. The man has patience; in all the years I'd known him, he'd never used Rhett Butler's scandalous farewell with me. I'm sure there were times he was tempted, but I suspect he didn't want to waste the line on a mediocre moment.

"My life's not your life," I said. "And as for tomorrow being another day, my tomorrow is really no different from my yesterday."

I shook my head, still bitter about being single again. Angry the way my marriage ended.
An old priest I knew from my farm girl days suggested that forgiving those who hurt us can lead to inner peace. Trouble was, I wasn't interested in peace. I craved revenge. On my good days, I'm an edgy chick with a temper. I didn't like that I still didn't like sleeping alone. I was also embarrassed to admit that I missed my husband, even though I'd found plenty to complain about when he was around.

Garnett pressed the file at me along with a tiny flashlight. "Have a look while I get us some snacks. But don't look so close you lose your appetite."

He left me alone with the file. It read Susan. I flipped through the police reports and the crime scene photos.

The truth was, I was desperate for a big scoop.

I had just come back to work last week following a three-month personal leave spent trying to get my personal life back together. I worried the time off might have been a mistake. I had always considered the key to keeping my world in order was never letting my personal and professional lives get out of whack at the same time. Now I was trying to get them both on track simultaneously. An overwhelming challenge.

Garnett returned during the previews with two large plastic cups of soda pop and a giant bucket of popcorn. I took a handful to be polite and got extra butter all over my fingers. Luckily, he brought extra napkins. I said nothing, accepting him for who he is--a man who considers potato chips his favorite vegetable and chocolate-covered cherries his favorite fruit.

"Who's Susan?" I finally asked.

"Which one?" Garnett pulled a newspaper clipping from the folder. The headline: "Body Found by Lake Calhoun." He said, "Check the date."

I moved the light beam to the top right corner. "November 19, 1991." He handed me another article, printed the next day, that identified the victim as Susan Chenowith. "Okay," I said, "tell me the story."

"Not yet." He stacked another clipping on top: "Unidentified Woman Strangled," it read.
I jerked slightly when he pointed at the date. November 19, 1992. Exactly one year later. "This is sort of weird."

"Don't get me started." He handed me a follow-up article that identified the second dead woman as Susan Moreno. "Okay," he said to me, "now you tell me the story."

I paused, my eyes moving back and forth between the two headlines in front of me. "They're both named Susan. They were both murdered. Same day, a year apart." Up on the silver screen the movie began, so I lowered my voice. "A serial killer stalking Susans?"

"Don't go writing your promo before you've got the facts," he warned. "I don't know what it means. I can't prove they are even related, though I spent a few years trying. But I also can't walk out the door knowing no one else is going to bother. So I'm giving you a copy. Have a crack at it."

Garnett's cell phone rang during the opening credits. An older man a few rows in front of us turned to glare. "No cell phones," the man hissed. He had no clue he was hissing at a cop. Garnett wore a dark suit and tie, nice enough for the street, but not good enough for on air.

He pulled out his badge, shined the light on it and then in our hisser's eyes. "Police business."
His phone rang again, the same generic ring tone as the day he bought it. He liked blending in, whether it be clothes, cars, or cell phones. He glanced at the number. Then he flipped open the receiver and I watched as he listened to whoever was on the other end. "Okay. I'm on my way," he finally said.

I didn't ask for details. If he could tell me, he would.

"I'll be back." He imitated the husky voice of a postapocalyptic cyborg. Pitiful.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator, 1984. That the best you got? You are so incredibly lame."

"I wanted to start you back slow until you get your confidence. When I'm convinced you can handle blockbusters again we'll move on to independent art films. And since you did so well in today's competition, I'll leave you our feast." He shoved his popcorn my way.

Some feast. A pail of grease. I shook my head and motioned thanks, but no thanks.

"Call me when you've had a chance to look through the file," he said. "I'm interested to see if there's anything I missed. And when you talk to the department, don't let them know you have it."

From the Hardcover edition.


Meet the Author

Julie Kramer is a freelance television news producer for NBC’s Today show, Nightly News, and Dateline. Prior to that, she was a national award-winning investigative producer for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. She lives near Minneapolis in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

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Stalking Susan 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Artful_Codger More than 1 year ago
After years on my to-read list, "Stalking Susan" was very rewarding -- far better than I expected from a first novel. So now Julie Kramer's books are on my read-the-rest list, along with books of Grisham, Sandford, Krueger, and another new Minnesota author, Colin Nelson, among others.
cjsthoughts More than 1 year ago
Julie Kramer's first novel is awesome! It is suspenseful and humorous and keeps you interested until the end. Her character, Riley Spartz, is funny and sophisticated, as she tries to unravel the mystery of the murders of the Susans. She also follows another news story that involves pet cremation. Julie mixes Minnesota landmarks in with the fiction, which makes it interesting and fun to read. Once you are finished, you will want to go out and purchase her next novel, Missing Mark, to read.
JosieKramer More than 1 year ago
I kept reading and hearing about this book and wanted to snatch it up as quickly as possible. I ran right home and started reading it. I was bored after the first couple of pages. Nothing grabbed my attention. But I decided to drudge through and it give it a chance. It was a quick read and before I knew it I was up to page 198. I put the book down and reflected on how I felt about the book at that point. It wasn't horrible. Worse. It was forgettable. I still had no bonds to the characters even though some back story was given on them. I didn't really care who the killer was, or if the lead character was going to be killed or not. I was tired of being school on cop talk and news-caster talk. About ten pages away from the ending, there was still no suspense. I wasn't enticed to keep turning the pages to see what would happen next. Everything seems really choppy and disjointed and contained absolutely no drama. This book is listed under: mystery and thriller. Neither of which actually appeared in the book. I just have two words for this book. SADLY DISAPPOINTING
LaurieFagen More than 1 year ago
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer As I former television reporter/photographer, I especially enjoyed Julie Kramer's "Stalking Susan," her first in a series featuring TV reporter Riley Spartz. But any lover of crime fiction will appreciate Kramer's solid plotting, mostly believable storylines, natural dialogue, rhythm and timing. Covering the ratings sweep stories of a serial killer, a unscrupulous veterinarian and a few other minor stories, Kramer tells the tales from a working broadcast journalists POV, infusing humor appropriately and making Riley's character one we want to know more about in "Susan" and her others in the series, including "Missing Mark," "Silencing Sam," "Killing Kate," "Shunning Sarah" and her latest, "Delivering Death." I plan to read them all in order!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book! Great newer author! A must read:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recently read this first story in an incredible new series. That I was shocked and at the murderer and I can say that at one point I thought that it was the retired cop in the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great easy ride. Words flow smoothly! Set to Mnpls/St. Paul area, helpful to know some of the area.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story with lots of twists and turns. I enjoyed every minute of it!
liberalheartk More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. It had some cliche dialouge but all in all it was a good read and I bought the other two books that follow.
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This is a light, easy to follow mystery. Great beach read or perfect when you're curled up next to the fire on a cold Minnesota winter night! (The book is set in Minneapolis)
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Westsidernyc More than 1 year ago
Julie Kramer has created a new heroine,Riley Spartz just right for the fans of Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller. This time she is a TV reporter, with a sad history and a way of getting into trouble. By getting away from the heroine as detective, being an investigative reporter gives some new twists to the cases that must be investigated. This series will just keep getting better, as can be seen in her next book MISSING MARK which was recently released. A great read, and a joy to look forward to new entries in this adorable series.