Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Murder in the newsroom

One need not have ever worked for a newspaper to appreciate John Darnton's 2008 mystery Black & White and Dead All Over, but it helps. Darnton, who had a long career as a reporter and editor for The New York Times, makes the murder of an editor for the fictional New York Globe the core of his story. And it appears to have been an inside job. There is no shortage of suspects, for not too many staff members liked Theodore Ratnoff. One who did, a woman who was having an affair with him, is soon found dead as well.

Darnton seems as interested in satirizing the newspaper industry as he is in crafting an entertaining murder mystery. He jabs at the trend, already well underway in 2008, for newspaper executives to seriously downsize both staff and news coverage, then wonder why they continue to lose readers. And after the first newsroom murder, the Globe editors bury the story, page-one news for their competitors, on page 32. Newspapers famously hide their own bad news.

The author's handling of newsroom politics and operations often seems better than his handling of the  mystery itself. The latter is interesting enough, but as bodies pile up and the serial killer keeps finding more outlandish ways of getting rid of enemies on the staff, the mystery itself falls into satire.

So it's not the best mystery you are likely to find, but you will find it entertaining, especially if, like me, you have worked for a newspaper.

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