Missing Mark

Missing Mark

by Julie Kramer

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307388520
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/22/2010
Series: Riley Spartz Series
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

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

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.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Missing Mark, the page-turning sequel to Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer.

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)

Customer Reviews

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Missing Mark 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
ethel55 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Minneapolis investigative reporter Riley Spartz is intrigued by a want ad in local paper. Why do people try to sell unworn wedding gowns? With sweeps coming up and news director Noreen wants Riley to come up with a big hit for the hot female ad age group. Riley pursues Madeline's tale of being left at the alter six months earlier by her groom, Mark. I really enjoyed the twists and turns this mystery took and the insider view of the newsroom life. There is a lot of local flavor as well, I don't think it detracts from the tale any more than a book set in Chicago discusses the local papers and burbs. Luckily, the Mall of America is a big enough site to be known by all.
nicole on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Riley Spartz is a TV reporter in Minnesota who keeps having crazy adventures while chasing her sweeps stories. The ad she spots about an unworn wedding dress plunges her into a missing person/murder mystery. Unfortunately, her news director isn¿t big on the story and wants her to pursue a stolen fish. And while all that¿s going on, Riley has been entrusted with the care of a police dog that has drug-ring assassins after him!I think I would¿ve liked this book more if the main character didn¿t work in the same industry as me. While some things can be (possibly) explained away because each station does things differently, I do feel there are some glaring inaccuracies. For example, Riley calls Malik in to shoot the note she gets and tells him that it¿ll be overtime for him. Not a chance. Riley would have to make use of one of the photographers already at the station. Riley also mentions that the station has dropped its insurance on the equipment to save money. Again there¿s no way this would happen. I was actually expecting the insurance thing to come into play as a plot point because it¿s so absurd. Another gripe I have is that all the TV stuff seemed dumbed down; there¿s no need to go into the explanations that Kramer does. If an explanation is needed, then it should be woven in better. Most of the explanations stopped the action. Overall, the plotting was good and I was kept guessing as to how each story would wrap.
suetu on LibraryThing 8 months ago
No sophomore slump for ¿Kramer the Namer¿Julie Kramer's debut novel, Stalking Susan, involved Minnesota investigative journalist Riley Spartz pursuing a serial killer of women named Susan. Some marketing genius at Doubleday thought it would be a good idea to send a galley to every Susan on their mailing list. He must have been right; I couldn't resist reading it. And I found it to be an exceptionally entertaining debut.In Missing Mark, Kramer is sticking with what works--namely an appealing protagonist and a strong supporting cast. Aside from her considerable mystery solving abilities, Riley is a constant font of info on the TV news biz, and I, for one, find it as fascinating as the cases she investigates. Likewise, the series' supporting characters are uniformly interesting without being too quirky to be real.Good news, the entire gang is back this time around, including some characters I didn't necessarily expect to see again. The plot of this second novel involves a missing persons case. Specifically, it's Mark, a bridegroom who fails to show on his wedding day--or in the several months that have passed since. Riley's cases are never simple, and this investigation quickly grows convoluted, with any number of possible explanations, suspects, and motives. However, Riley's boss thinks a missing bigmouth bass will garner higher ratings for sweeps. She may be right.Two-thirds of the way through, I figured out who-done-it and why. I have no idea where that intuitive leap came from, but it was no fault of Kramer's plotting, which is tight and well-paced. I don't have a lot of time for mystery series, but I'm going to stick with Riley & Co. (For readers intrigued by this book, I'd suggest backing up and reading Stalking Susan first. Lucky you, it's just been released in paperback.) So far, the name books are a nice blend of light and dark entertainment. They're not terribly violent or graphic and the mysteries within feel fresh. In conclusion, I'm Recommending Riley and Judging Julie to be well worth your reading time.
Cats57 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Missing Mark by Julie KramerWhat do you get when you mix Mary Richards, female TV news reporter and icon of the 70¿s with a TV news reporter of the new millennium? You get Riley Spartz, star of the new series by author Julie Kramer. In the series first book Stalking Susan, which came out last year and I had the pleasure of reading, you¿ll again find Riley and her assorted cohorts at Channel 3 following those big stories. Because it¿s all about the ratings dontcha know LOL! No, it¿s not really necessary to read Stalking Susan first, but since you can¿t go wrong with the first book, I highly recommend it since it gives you a much clearer picture of why Riley and her cohorts are the way they are. 90 The book opens with Riley pursuing a human interest story about a wedding dress that has never been worn and a groom that failed to show at the altar, which turns eventually and expertly into our murder mystery. During the course of her investigation Riley will also become involved with several other interesting stories; one which involves a large mouth bass and another which involves a `Meth¿ cartel. Ms Kramer gives us plenty to chew on as we in reader land try to solve the who-done-it and to also figure out just where the next story will come from. Missing Mark is clever, fresh, funny, fast paced and a wonderful read for a summer day. I loved learning just how a news cast is produced and shot, yet the author never gets overly techie. The fully developed characters are a pleasure to read in this first person narrative. Some may be tempted to compare Ms Kramer¿s books to Janet Evanovich¿s Stephanie Plum series and while I see how that can be, in my opinion you really shouldn¿t try. We have book 2 and already you can see Riley grow to overcome some of her personal issues from Stalking Susan. Highly satisfying!I¿ll leave you with a brief quote or as they say in TV land, a promo---¿ Exclusive! See Riley Spartz¿s Big Bust Tonight At Ten.¿
claude_lambert on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I got tired of bloody murders and heartless killers and I found the perfect antidote in Julie Kramer. Missing Mark is the story of a journalist interested in the story of a bride abandoned by the groom. The groom has not used is credit card or social since the wedding day. This book is like reading champagne. It is humorous in a very discrete way (now you see it, now you don't), well informed on a variety of subjects and I love that in a mystery book. We are introduced to bass fishing, interesting places in Minneapolis, a rare plant, the profits of grocery stores, all kinds of delightful tidbits that do not slow down the action. As a bonus, the author appears to be a nice person: you would invite Julie Kramer at your home, together with Alexander McCall Smith or Colin Cotterill. Many good authors I would not like to meet at all: I got a long list of people I read because I like their books but I would not dream of meeting them: it is like good actors: some are great people, some are despicable.
miyurose on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Stalking Susan, so I had high hopes for this one. Thankfully, it delivered! Riley Spartz is nothing if not persistent. Sweeps are coming up again, and she¿s under pressure, as usual. TV news is changing, and the chances of her ending up with a story as big as the last one are low. When the ad for a never worn wedding dress shows up in the paper, she hopes she can find a story there. Along the way we get to visit with some of our favorite characters from the first book.I think Kramer takes this story in some interesting directions. At least one aspect of it was totally unexpected, and something I¿ve never seen anywhere else. This surprises me, because it was a very interesting medical condition. Also, we see Riley still struggling with her personal life as she continues to recover from the death of her husband. She doesn¿t always make the best decisions, but she does get her story.This is a series I continue to enjoy!
cenneidigh on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Riley number two and it was great. The bride was face blind and that is an interesting disorder(I can't imagine not being able to remember a face, names are bad for me but at least I recognize them). Loved the Minnesota ties. Great mystery and slight romance.Her writing is easy to follow and fun to read. She spins a great mystery that keeps you interested right up to the last page. Riley is a character with feeling and depth. A new writer who I will be following, now I just wish she could write a bit faster.
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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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Just finished reading Missing Mark and am looking forward to reading Julie Kramer's next book.
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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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