Network journalist turned novelist Julie Kramer writes media thrillers set in the desperate world of TV news. Kramer has won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, RT Reviewer’s Choice for Best First Mystery, and the Minnesota Book Award. Her work has also been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark, and RT Best Amateur Sleuth Awards.
In DELIVERING DEATH, the sixth in Kramer’s series, notorious white-collar criminal Jack Clemens is transferred to a state prison that houses violent offenders. Soon thereafter, TV reporter Riley Spartz receives a package of human teeth in the mail. Riley’s investigation into the horrifying discovery reveals that Clemens, the leader of a lucrative identity-theft ring, is the prime suspect in a homicide. But Clemens also has the ultimate alibi—when the murder occurred, he was behind bars.
While Riley pushes to keep the homicide in the news and to report on the potentially tragic consequences that identify theft can have on its victims, her boss, news director Bryce Griffin, focuses on providing entertainment, not news. Bryce is convinced that coverage of the Mall of America’s unique version of a royal wedding is key to the Channel 3 winning the ratings. In the course of her search for the truth about the murder, Riley confronts issues of journalistic integrity, animal cruelty, and gay rights, all at great personal risk. Ultimately, Riley’s investigation leads to a shocking conclusion.
Give us an elevator pitch for DELIVERING DEATH.
How about ANCHORMAN 2 meets CASTLE?
Money, marriage and madness collide when a TV reporter receives a package of human teeth in the mail and is caught in a deadly identity theft ring while her newsroom boss is convinced that covering a giant wedding will attract more viewers.
Would you describe your novel as a thriller, a mystery, or both? What’s the difference?
I don’t consider the labels mutually exclusive. Every mystery needs thrills and every thriller needs mystery. I sometimes avoid the debate by calling my books suspense.
DELIVERING DEATH is set in Minneapolis. What role does the city play in your novels?
Minneapolis is a competitive news market, home to Fortune 500 companies, and one of the most literate cities in America, yet the city still has to battle the image of being in fly-over land. DELIVERING DEATH features real locations from the Mary Tyler Moore statue to the Mall of America to the Spam Museum. I enjoy when readers think, “Hey, I’ve heard of that place. It must all be true.”
Your protagonist, Riley Spartz, is an investigative reporter who values hard news over entertainment. How does Riley’s integrity give rise to conflict in the novel?
While Riley wants justice for crime victims, her boss is convinced that covering a giant wedding at the Mall of America will result in higher ratings. He’s probably right, but that doesn’t mean she has to like it.
The tough part about writing a TV reporter heroine these days is that publishers prefer likeable protagonists while the most recent Gallup poll shows America’s trust in TV news is at an all time low. So how do I make readers like a character when most of them hate what she does for a living? Riley is upfront about shortcomings within the news business and my books each involve different ethical issues facing television journalists.
DELIVERING DEATH is the sixth in the Riley Spartz series. How do you manage to keep Riley so fresh and interesting?
I never let myself forget that nothing in my books is as wild as what’s on the news each night. That frees me to come up with unique plots and motivation rather than talk myself out of interesting premises. The biggest challenge when writing a series is hooking new readers with a self-contained story that doesn’t require them to have read the previous books, yet giving payoff to faithful fans who’ve been with me since the start, and not rehashing too much backstory.
Riley’s primary romantic interests have been in law enforcement, including her ex-boyfriend Nick Garnett, who plays a prominent role in DELIVERING DEATH. What about Riley causes her to be attracted to cops?
In real life, reporters often meet people on the job or in the newsroom and that becomes their dating pool. When writing crime fiction, it’s helpful to have at least one character involved in law enforcement so their expertise can be used in the story. Incorporating romance also can increase the stakes for the central characters. Part of the fun in writing DELIVERING DEATH is that the stunning conclusion happens on Valentine’s Day.
Among the settings in your novel are the non-public areas of the Mall of America, a federal prison, and a location I won’t mention because to do so would be a spoiler. You also write about identity theft and animal rights. Please describe how you conduct research for your books.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have lived my TV news research. But I enjoy first hand research of all kinds, from lying in a casket with the lid shut to attending an auction of goods belonging to a high profile white collar criminal. Spending a career as a journalist has taught me not to take no for an answer, so I can be persuasive when it comes to getting tours of normally off limits places, or getting experts to chat with me about things like identity fraud. This helps me write with authority and keep my plots plausible.
Of course, contemporary writing with topical themes can be risky. DELIVERING DEATH has a subplot involving same-sex marriage. At the time I finished the manuscript, gay marriage was illegal in Minnesota, and political sources had told me the legislature was not going to take on the issue until the following year while they waited for a Supreme Court ruling. At the last minute, lawmakers realized they had enough support to change the law. So I had to rewrite that subplot with same-sex marriage as legal in the state.
Like Riley, you were an investigative reporter. I would guess the usual question is whether Riley is like you. Could you tell us how Riley differs from you?
I was actually an investigative producer—an off camera television journalist—but as I envisioned writing a media thriller (because deep down all journalists think we have novels inside of us) I decided making my protagonist an on camera reporter opened up more interesting possibilities for readers to get a behind the scenes look at the business. It also allowed me to write observations about that part of the profession that on air reporters might squirm over making public.
Pardon me for borrowing a question that you asked Michael Connelly in your recent interview with him in the December edition of THE BIG THRILL. You’ve had two lauded careers, as a news reporter and as a writer. If you had a do-over, would you pursue some other career?
Both professions—novelist and journalist—are currently facing tough changes, but I wouldn’t trade those experiences, but I’m all for people reinventing themselves as their lives unfold. I’d still like to be a speech writer someday. And occasionally I wish I could live in a parallel universe and see what my life would have been like if I’d gone a math/science route. Could I have invented something real cool?
What’s your next project?
Currently working on the next (still untitled) book in my series.
“Riley, intrepid as ever, shows her humanity as the various plot threads are woven together with a highly satisfying epilogue. This sixth Riley Spartz outing features the fast-paced action laced with humor that originally marked this as a winning series.” —BOOKLIST
“TV crime reporter Riley Spartz is one of my favorite heroines! She’ll stop at nothing to solve the crime—and secure her ratings. DELIVERING DEATH delivers Kramer’s trademark suspense, wit, and pitch perfect pacing. An excellent addition to a fantastic series.” —NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Allison Brennan
“Fast-paced, fun and full of surprises.” —NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Nancy Bush
“Witty and wicked. Julie Kramer mixes murder and the media in ways you won’t see coming. A great read!” —Allison Leotta, bestselling author of SPEAK OF THE DEVIL
Julie Kramer, a network journalist turned novelist, writes media thrillers set in the desperate world of TV news. Kramer has won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, RT Reviewer’s Choice for Best First Mystery, and the Minnesota Book Award. Her work has also been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark and RT Best Amateur Sleuth Awards.
To learn more about Julie, please visit her website.