Friday, October 2, 2009

Black and White and Dead All Over by John Darnton

Theodore S. Ratnoff is dead. The assistant managing editor of the New York Globe was found near the fifth-floor conference room with the tool of his trade — an editor's spike, used to "kill" stories — sticking out of his chest, and the only compliment he regularly gave ("Nice. Who?") impaled on the spike.

Young upstart reporter Jude Hurley is assigned the story; young no-nonsense police detective Priscilla Bollingsworth is assigned the case. They must work together (while dealing with their attraction to one another) to find out all the facts before the newsroom becomes a morgue (and I'm not talking about the one where they keep the news archives).

Author John Darnton brings 40 years of journalistic experience (and a Pulitzer Prize) to Black and White and Dead All Over, lending the details an authenticity that carries the plot through its slow parts, namely the mystery.

The murder investigation is entertaining enough, and Darnton does a fine job with that portion of Black and White and Dead All Over, but it's the behind-the-scenes operations of a modern daily paper that really shine. It is most memorable as a playful satire on the industry and especially of those individuals who choose to make it their career.

Just don't take it too seriously because Darnton has a biting wit that peels the veneer from some very self-important people. His tome is one of good-natured mean-spiritedness. Darnton's supporting characters are thinly veiled caricatures (drawn with a good deal of literary license) of his former co-workers at the New York Times. (Judith "Dinah" Outsalot, for example, is obviously based on disguise-happy food columnist Ruth Reichl.)

For those so inclined, there is also an unabridged audiobook of Black and White and Dead All Over read by Phil Gigante. Though his reading is otherwise unremarkable, Gigante offers some appropriate (and skillfully rendered) accents to characters of Western European extraction.

Interestingly, Black and White and Dead All Over was the second I read in a month (the first was Bad Things Happen) where the murderer left a note quoting from Hamlet — which doesn't say much for us fans of Shakespeare, I must admit.

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