Journalist John Darnton sets this colorful mystery in the heart of the newspaper industry, a high-profile murder in the editorial department of the New York Globe. When the ruthless, demanding Theodore S. Ratnoff is found with an editor’s kill spike embedded in his chest, the Globe is abuzz with shock and rumors.
Reporter Jude Hurley is assigned the story and immediately cognizant of its importance to his career. Coordinating with NYPD detective Priscilla Bollingsworth, Jude is not above exchanging information, realizing he needs up-to-date material to fill a daily quota of column inches, Ratnoff’s murder a great scandal in a fiercely competitive business. And that’s only the beginning.
While a Rupert Murdoch-type financial opportunist waits in the wings to make a move on the Globe’s ownership, real journalism is under attack, the old ways threatened by an encroaching Internet, the board intent on cutting, downsizing and streamlining an intricate organism that depends as much on the little guy as the high-profile movers and shakers.
Reveling in the eccentricities of the journalistic community, the novel abounds with personalities, from an acerbic food editor to the slacker who avoids assignments, from the ominously tense, quiet boardroom to the long-ignored machinery that sits ghost-like in the bowels of the building. Jude figures Ratnoff was on the cusp of a big story, spending hours researching in the morgue.
Jude’s task is to piece the truth together from an event mired in rumor, suspicion and violence. Ratnoff’s sudden, picturesque demise leads to other discoveries: years of plagiarism by a well-credentialed reporter; a secret affair with a gossip columnist; a Machiavellian power struggle for control of the Globe; an autocratic head of security with his own agenda; and a killer too clever by half, who signs his cryptic victory notes “The Avenger.”
The workings of a big-city newspaper are complicated, frantic twenty-four hour cycles of news on deadline followed by long periods of seeming inactivity that builds into a deafening roar pre-press. Following each daily cycle as though it has replaced his body’s own biorhythms, Jude is a creature of the Globe, ink as rich as blood in his veins. As such, he has a vested interest in keeping the Globe’s presses printing, in spite of a murderous saboteur who seeks to shut the old giant down.
With only a little romance to distract Jude from his mission, Darnton devotes considerable energy to the mechanisms of a daily newspaper fighting progress and the bloodless advances of technology. With old-school journalism, reporters’ instincts honed in the streets, the nose for a story is bred in a dedicated reporter’s DNA.
Sure there are a few bad apples - and a murderer - but this thriller is a paean to journalism and the threats it faces from without and, more troubling, from within. Jude triumphs after a few close calls, the Globe lumbering on for another news cycle, motto intact: “To afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”