Dave Wood's Book Report, Sept. 16, 2009
There's an old saw that says Edgar Rice Burroughs never visited Africa, but managed to write a slew of books about Tarzan, his mate and his ape.
Maybe that's what's wrong with the Tarzan books. Lines like that remind me of the Shakespeare apologists in the 17th century who said that the Bard was so good he never had to delete a line.
In response his contemporary Ben Jonson, said "If only he had blotted a thousand."
All this literary history by way of introducing "Missing Mark," by Julie Kramer (Doubleday, $25).
Kramer, a resident of White Bear Lake, is a freelance TV producer. Before that she headed WCCO-TV's award winning investigative unit.
Her heroine in "Missing Mark" is Riley Spartz, an investigative reporter for Channel 3, a Minneapolis TV station.
It goes without saying that unlike Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kramer knows of which she writes. And she also writes very well, with few lines that need "blotting."
The novel opens when Riley sees an ad in the White Bear Press: "Wedding Dress for Sale: Never Worn."
It's sweeps time and Riley needs a gully washer of a story to revive her reputation at Channel 3 and shut up her boss, an unlikable woman (possibly modeled on Kramer's own boss).
So she hunts up the placer of the ad, a woman left at the altar.
She turns out to be an heiress and her one-time groom to be is a down-at-the-heels comic. No catch for an heiress. What's going on here?
Kramer deftly weaves a story that's very satisfying for readers who like to be somewhat acquainted with the settings and the characters involved.
If you liked Jon Hassler's take on central Minnesota in "Staggerford"; if you liked Thomas Gifford's take on Taylor's Falls in "The Wind Chill Factor," if you liked Mary Logue's picture of river rats along the St. Croix, you'll probably enjoy Kramer's informed look into the nuts and bolts and screw-ups of our news media.
She creates an anchor who is also a bass fisherman (read Don Shelby). Her Channel 3 is obviously Channel 4.
Her heiress comes from a long line of famous entrepreneurial Twin Cities families.
Her description of White Bear Lake is spot on and for Wisconsin readers she even makes it to Hudson. She also takes a well-deserved shot at the new Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, in all their teeny-weeny thinness.
On her first Riley Spartz, "Stalking Susan," Kramer won the Minnesota Book Award and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Little wonder.
Remember the Alamo?
Very likely. But how much else do you know about the United States' war with Mexico?
Very likely not much. You can remedy that gap by reading "Eagles and Empire," by David Clary (Bantam, $30), a thrilling re-enactment of the historic conflict which still lives with us in our relationship with Mexico.
Clary draws fascinating pictures of fascinating characters like the intractable President James K. Polk and his rival dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna as well as John Fremont and Kit Carson as well as soldiers from both sides who would later fight in the civil wars of both countries.
Clary sums up his epic history with a quote from Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.