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Book Report: Murder, intrigue are prime topics this week

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Kudos to Julie Kramer for yet another well-told mystery entitled "Silencing Sam" (Atria, $23.99).

Kramer is a freelance TV producer from White Bear Lake, Minn., and former producer of WCCO's evening news. I reviewed her first book, which unpacked the world of TV news production in a most informative way.

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But I really got excited last month when I read in Cheryl Johnson's gossip column in the Star Tribune that reporter Joe Kimball's wife (that would be Julie Kramer) had written another mystery in which the heroine was accused of murdering a Minneapolis gossip columnist.

Ooh-ee! I've been waiting for that news ever since Cheryl Johnson got promoted to the Tribune's gossip column, simply titled "C.J." It's a very smarmy bit of journalism that I never thought the Tribune would stoop to. It's snotty, full of innuendo and rumor. And whining.

Johnson whined as she told us the news.

"What have I ever done to deserve such a nasty plot?" asked the columnist.

Plenty, C.J. Plenty.

So wonder of wonders, the next day I received a copy of Kramer's new book from Atria and I dove right in, waiting for the moment when the gossip columnist got her comeuppance.

Riley Spartz is Kramer's heroine. A farm girl turned investigative reporter, she's been a target for the gossip columnist several times.

But this time the gossip columnist goes too far, suggests that Spartz has cast off her widow's weeds too soon after her husband's death, and is now running around with a new boyfriend.

So Riley goes to a Minneapolis Tribune hangout, (obviously the late lamented Little Wagon) and confronts the gossip columnist, tossing a glass of wine at the little creep.

Gossip columnist sues, wins the case and Riley Spartz is sent out of town on an assignment to figure out why someone is blowing up towers on a wind farm in the neighborhood where she grew up in southern Minnesota.

When she returns to Minneapolis the gossip columnist has been murdered, and guess who's the prime suspect?

That's right: Riley Spartz.

This is a fast-paced thriller with only one disappointment.

Kramer's Tribune gossip columnist has undergone a sex change. She's now a guy named Sam Pierce, who is even more popular than Sid Hartman.

So I didn't have the pleasure of seeing my least favorite columnist garroted or poisoned or ground up in a wood chipper. Nevertheless, this is a fine novel, made even finer by its familiarity and its take on what's happening in the news business these days.

*****

Piazza Santa Croce, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, the magnificent Duomo: All familiar sites to those who have traveled to Florence, Italy.

One author who knows the magnificent city of the Medicis backward and forward is Lorenzo Carcaterra, a movie script writer (Law and Order) who has visited Italy every year since he was a wee lad.

For those who can't afford to go, for those who have already been, but forgotten much, Carcaterra's new thriller is just the ticket.

"Midnight Angels" (Ballantine, $26) interweaves the rich tapestry of Florence with the adventures of Kate Westcott, an art historian who comes to Florence to study the work of Michelangelo. She already knows a lot about the fabled artist, but discovers more with her pal Marco Scudarti, another art student.

Wandering the cobblestoned streets of the beautiful city they stumble into a secret room in a corridor that has been sealed and forgotten since the time of the Medicis. Inside, they discover three sculptures that have never before been seen, only rumored to exist: the Midnight Angels.

What a find. And what a danger! Art thieves are on their tails, as is the Rome Art Squad.

Everyone wants the Midnight Angels. Are Kate and Marco still in the ballgame?

Dave would like to her from you. Phone him at 426-9554.

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