Sunday, April 15, 2012


By Richard A. Thompson
Poisoned Pen Press 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-820-8

World War I is done and Charlie Krueger’s older brother is never coming home.  Charlie, his sister and their mother must cope with an increasingly abusive drunken father and husband.  The summer of 1919 wanes and vast acreages of the Middle West prairies are thick with ripening grain.  Up the long reaches from the banks of the Platte and the Missouri come the contract threshing machines. Most are followed by raffish rootless men called bindlestiffs, who supplement a farmer’s friends and relatives on the threshing crews.  The crews are often peopled by men of questionable backgrounds and are occasionally eyed with suspicion by local sheriffs who rarely chase criminals beyond their county boundaries.

When Charlie Krueger has a final confrontation with his father, he leaves behind a sorrowful mother and sister and the local girl he thought he’d love forever.  He becomes a bindlestiff, traveling from farm to farm, learning the threshing business and nurturing his love for machines.

The machines are new, complicated and prone to breakdowns.  Charlie hooks up with a marvelously conceived traveling machine repair crew that becomes his new family.  But lurking in the background is a killer, a killer who believes Charlie saw his latest brutal deed.  He seeks to find and murder Charlie.  Meanwhile, the sheriff of Charlie’s home county has developed leads which point him toward Charlie as a murderer.

This then is the roiling plot which moves the story forward.  Carefully constructed and set against the vast reaches of the plains states, the novel evokes a time and place and the attitudes of the people and the land in a powerful and moving way.  Readers will smell the dust, drip sweat and shrivel under the burning sun right along with the threshing crews.  They’ll feel a clutch in the night as the sheriff and the murderer draw closer and they’ll empathize with the casual corruption and the surmounting goodness of the characters the author has created.

A fine, exciting and unusual well-written novel I am pleased to recommend to all readers of crime fiction. Winner of the 2011 prestigious Minnesota Book Award for Genre Fiction.

Thursday, April 05, 2012


Killing Kate                 
By Julie Kramer
ISBN: 978-1-4391-7801-0
2011 release from Atria Books
Hard cover, 322 pages

One of the crucial elements of this series is its platform. It’s a platform the author knows well and uses to full effect. Her platform is the reality and atmosphere of a television news operation. In today’s broadcast television business, tension and often frantic pursuit of ratings, rules. Ratings are tied directly to advertisers and what they can be charged for air time. That’s the reality. This is the novel.

Riley Spartz, newshen of a local television station in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, sometimes is a bit of a loose cannon. It drives her bosses up the wall. On the other hand, she seems to get the important stories. Spartz is a veteran reporter, well aware that her skills and experience are being constantly measured against younger, cheaper, upcoming talent. It pushes her to extend herself and sometimes into mortal danger.  Author Julie Kramer has a strong background in television new production and she uses that experience to excellent effect. The novel rings with authenticity.

Almost accidentally Riley discovers an odd chalk outline around the body of a dead woman in south Minneapolis. She’s chasing a solution to the murder of a young woman when Riley, against her boss’s wishes, learns of her own personal connection to the dead woman. That connection gives her more incentive to follow the story. Almost as an aside, on a hot day in Minneapolis she comes across a dog locked in a truck in a parking lot. Riley’s instincts kick in and a live feed from a liquor store parking lot sends ripples through the community and incenses the dog’s owner. Between the two stories, Riley has a lot to juggle And then violence flares all around her.

The novel is cleanly and smoothly written, with a powerful forward thrust that grabs the reader and contributes to its page-turning intensity. The characters are multi-dimensional and interesting. One of the author’s strengths is her ability to surprise us while retaining the essential dimensions of the characters. “Killing Kate” is a terrific novel and I’m looking forward to the next in this series.