The New York Times
Black and White and Dead All Overby John Darnton
As more bodies turn up, it will fall on Priscilla Bollingsworth/i>
A powerful editor is found dead in the newsroom—stabbed with the very spike he would use to kill stories—and in the cutthroat offices of The New York Globe, anyone could be the murderer. Could it be the rival newspaper tycoon? The bumbling publisher? The steely executive editor?
As more bodies turn up, it will fall on Priscilla Bollingsworth, a young and ambitious NYPD detective, and Jude Hurley, a clever and rebellious reporter, to navigate the ink-infested waters of the case. A cunning and pitch-perfect portrait of the declining newspaper industry, this rollicking novel entertains from the first to the last.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
William Randolph Hearst meets Agatha Christie in this entertaining crime novel from Pulitzer Prize-winner Darnton (The Darwin Conspiracy). When assistant managing editor Theodore S. Ratnoff is found murdered in the offices of the New York Globe, a major newspaper struggling to stay afloat amid ever-decreasing readership, circulation and stock value, the killer could be any number of Globe employees who've been humiliated by the tyrannical Ratnoff over the years. Aided by enigmatic NYPD Det. Priscilla Bollingsworth, the Globe's investigative reporter Jude Hurley begins the daunting task of exonerating a laundry list of suspects, who include rogue cops, a reporter suspected of plagiarism and a disgraced executive editor. When the Globe's gossip columnist and food critic turn up dead, the case suddenly becomes much more complicated-and dangerous. Loaded with subtle social commentary and wry humor (a teen's Web journal, teenage.snivel.com, gets "close to 1.5 million hits a day"), this highly intelligent whodunit will keep readers guessing. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
When a hated editor turns up dead in the newsroom with a news spike in his chest, it looks like an inside job at the New York Globe. Hot-shot investigative reporter Jude Hurley gets the story assignment shortly before the gossip columnist is murdered in a bundling machine. Then the food critic is poisoned during a live, televised cooking demo while the killer leaves taunting literary teasers. Jude and an attractive, young NYPD detective warily work together trying to stop the carnage while keeping the paper going. Although Darnton's four previous novels incorporated a science element (The Experiment; The Darwin Conspiracy; Neanderthal; Mind Catcher), here he makes skilled use of his four decades as a New York Times reporter, editor, and correspondent. Wit and sarcasm show in the insider anecdotes, the jabs at editors, even in characters' names. A Murdoch-like empire builder is named Moloch, and the publisher's twin sons are Rosen and Guilden. It's a lot of fun with melodramatic twists all arising from a really bad lede. Recommended for public and academic collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ3/1/08.]
This fast-paced whodunit entertains on several levels. A domineering, powerful, spiteful editor of a major national newspaper is found murdered with the same spike in his chest that he used to kill reporters' stories. A young, single, clever female detective teams up with a young, single, clever male reporter to solve the case. The evidence points to a multitude of suspects. Then another victim is found dead, and then, still another. Each time, the method of murder is more gruesome, and more telling. Obviously, the murderer (murderers?) is sending a message, but exactly what that message is remains elusive. The suspense mounts, and most readers will remain puzzled to the end. In addition to these elements of a traditional mystery, readers are treated to an inside look at a rapidly changing, and some would say dying, profession of print journalism. With considerable attention to detail, Darnton portrays the key players in this transformation: the resentful old guard, the clueless publisher, the aggressive career builders, the talented but unappreciated reporters, the self-centered columnists, and the ruthless international media tycoon. With abundant wit and panache, the author navigates his way between the rising cliffs of cynicism and romanticism to arrive at some semblance of truth concerning this not-yet-expired institution in our society. The daily newspaper is still alive in America, even if several newspaper workers are dead all over in Darnton's entertaining and enlightening tale.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
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Read an Excerpt
Ellen Butterby had never before seen a dead body. So she was not at all prepared for what she found on that mid-September morning.
It was a chilly day, mist turning to rain. She emerged still groggy from New York's Port Authority bus terminal on Eighth Avenue--she had napped on the bus from Montclair--and angry that she had left her umbrella at home. To be unprepared ran against her character. Her gray hair was already covered with tiny droplets, a spider's web glistening with morning dew.
She walked to the open-air coffee wagon on West Forty-fifth Street and joined the line behind five people. She seethed that it was moving so slowly, depriving her of the shelter of the wagon's metal sideboard, propped up to provide a roof for only the first two or three customers.
Finally she reached the service window. From inside, Bashir flashed a smile.
"Some day, isn't it?" he remarked.
She nodded curtly by way of reply.
He had anticipated her order, one hand holding the container with the Lipton tea bag, the other bent at the wrist, pulling back the hot-water tap. On days like this, when the windows of his wagon steamed over and he hunched down to make change from the coins scattered on a towel beside the window, the Afghan struck her as a troll in his lair.
She picked up the container and set off down the block, leaning into the now-quickening rain. She reflected on the fact that she was rarely pleasant to Bashir. Perhaps, she mused, she was something of a snob. She felt a vague stab of emptiness. What did she have to be snobbish about? Childless, unmarried, fifty-seven years old, and living with her bedridden mother, she had not drunk deeply from life. As a young woman fresh out of secretarial school, she had answered a help wanted ad, appeared in the cavernous lobby of the New York Globe, and was hired at ninety dollars a week. That was thirty-six years ago, and she had been there ever since. What had she accomplished? Like everyone else, she had given everything to the paper, that bottomless pit. She was aware, on days when she scanned the obits, that she wouldn't merit a single paragraph.
But lately, it seemed, the newspaper was beginning to repay her. She had risen through the ranks to a respectable position, administrative assistant to none other than Theodore S. Ratnoff, the Globe's much-feared assistant managing editor. Ratnoff was famous for the dressing-downs meted out to subordinates, especially copy editors, who labored in suffering obscurity like half-blind medieval monks churning out illuminated manuscripts. He was in charge of style, standards, and usage--the coin of the realm--and he enforced his edicts with Torquemadan unrestraint. A dangling modifier led to a verbal lash of the whip, a pejorative anonymous quote to a figurative stab with a red-hot poker. Headlines of unintentional ambiguity--so-called two-faced heads--brought out the rack. But on substantive issues--like pandering to the reader with puff pieces--he was among the worst.
Two things were notable about Ratnoff. One was his intelligence, which made his remarks all the more cutting; he was rarely wrong, and on those rare occasions when he was, no one below the masthead called him on it. The other was his imposing demeanor and fastidious dress. He was tall and blond, of German extraction on his mother's side and Hungarian on his father's, with a crew cut like a ship's prow and cold blue eyes. His black pinstriped suits were bespoke and the white cuffs of his Turnbull & Asser shirts were clasped by diamond-chipped links. His shoes were polished to the patina of a black tulip. Such an outfit might turn a smaller man into a dandy, but in Ratnoff's case it accentuated his naturally dominating presence. When he walked into a room, other men sometimes felt a tingling in their gonads.
Among all the reporters and editors, only Ratnoff was permitted to use a purple flow pen. How this corporate crotchet came about, no one remembered, but it had become a law of its own, enforced when necessary by Ratnoff himself. A cocky young editor who bucked the sanction in his first week--he used a purple pen to fill out an overtime form--was shortly afterward banished to real estate news. This coup de grâce spread Ratnoff's notoriety to newsrooms all the way to the West Coast.
Ratnoff wielded his purple pen liberally, dispensing critical notes of Teutonic exactitude with such abandon that copy editors reporting for work developed the habit of gravitating toward their mailboxes to see if the walnut interior reflected a lavender glow. Every few weeks, Ratnoff's messages--he kept dupes, naturally--were collated into a bundle the size of a suburban phone directory and distributed to the staff. These became known as "poison plums." The public humiliation from the plums took such a toll on morale that senior management eventually prevailed on Ratnoff to leaven the dough with an occasional compliment. He complied. Thereafter, he trolled through each day's paper with one eyebrow raised, turning the pages at arm's length, as if they were radioactive, looking for bright news stories and clever turns of phrase to praise. Whenever he came upon a felicitous headline, along the lines of WAL-MART CASH REGISTERS RINGING UP A GREEN CHRISTMAS OR ST. PAT's PARADE TURNS IRISH EYES TO SMILING, he would fire off a note to "the slot"--the person in charge of the appropriate copy desk--demanding the name of the author. These notes invariably consisted of two words whose brevity was peremptory: "Nice. Who?"
Butterby came to the revolving door and pushed. The brushed edges gave way with customary reluctance. The lobby floor was slick and slippery. She noticed with approbation that the guards, seated behind their pale consoles, were chatting amiably. They had not yet laid the trail of thick green carpeting that grew so soggy that a trip to the elevator bank was like wading through the Everglades. She pulled out her ID card, swiped it, and gave the turnstile arm a sideways pelvic thrust. She skirted the massive five-foot globe of the earth suspended by wires over an upside-down dome in the floor--the paper's symbol, also printed on its front-page nameplate--that had so impressed her during that long-ago job interview and that the reporters, cynical souls all, called "the barbecue pit."
She rode the elevator to the fifth floor, still thinking about Ratnoff. If she were honest with herself, she'd have to admit that she drew a certain satisfaction from his tyrannical reputation because some of it rubbed off on her. With self-satisfied magnanimity, she pretended not to notice the kowtowing when other secretaries hurried to make space for her in the company cafeteria, or the shock when a backfield editor languidly picked up a phone receiver and learned who was calling.
The receptionist's desk on the fifth floor was unoccupied. Behind it lay the vast newsroom, now dormant. It was an entire block long, from Forty-fifth Street to Forty-sixth Street, with windows on either end. Clocks affixed to pillars ticked off seconds noiselessly and computers glowed, their screen savers floating eerily, as if they were signaling one another. Butterby loved it like this, deserted and peaceful, a battlefield after the slaughter. Page proofs and notes and photos cluttered the editors' desks like spent bandages and cartridge belts. The reporters' cubicles were darkened, burned-out pillboxes. Their desks were stacked with debris--yellowing newspapers, thick bound reports, legal pads, loose notes, books, food containers, coffee cups. Inside, the fabric walls were plastered over with clipped cartoons, yellow Post-its, vacation photos, and clever sayings about deadlines: "What dead lion? I don't know anything about a dead lion."
She looked at a clock. Eight-thirty. In another half hour, the place would begin to come alive, at first gradually as the copy people came in to clean up, then more quickly as the news clerks arrived to check the wires and look for messages, and then rapidly as the assistant editors rushed in to review assignments and draw up news schedules, and finally frantically as the desk heads and senior editors strode in to check the overnight reports and phone the foreign, national, and metro desks to ask what was going on.
It was a ballet she had seen hundreds of times, thousands.
Except that today it was different.
For today, as she rounded the central aisle of the newsroom, not far from Ratnoff's glassed-in office, she saw something lying in the middle of an open space near the page-one conference room. It was large, indistinct, and definitely out of place--a pile of something, perhaps, or an overturned piece of furniture or--was this possible?--an animal of some sort. A Great Dane? A beached shark?
She strode closer and gasped, her hand rising involuntarily to her mouth, ready to stifle a scream.
It was a body, a lifeless body, and not just any body. It was Ratnoff. On his back, his arms outstretched as if ready to hug the air, lying in a pool of blood that had almost reached the glass doors of the conference room, turning the heavy-wear carpet a rusted brown. She tiptoed closer and looked down.
Ratnoff's eyes were closed. His face looked peaceful. But there, in the center of his chest, was a four-inch-wide green hunk of metal. She recognized it immediately. It was the base of an editor's spike, used in the old days to kill stories. The metal shaft protruding from it was sunk into Ratnoff's blue-and-red-striped shirt, hammered in so hard that it had created a tiny cavity filled with bright blood. The end of his red tie dipped into it, like a tongue into a martini glass. Fixed to the spike was a note.
She leaned over the body to read it. It was in purple ink.
It said simply: "Nice. Who?"
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
John Darnton has worked for forty years as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He was awarded two George Polk Awards for his coverage of Africa and Eastern Europe, and the Pulitzer Prize for his stories that were smuggled out of Poland during the period of martial law. He is a bestselling author whose previous novels include Neanderthal and The Darwin Conspiracy. He lives in New York.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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This is a fun, fast read. A great who-done-it story.
The New York Globe is in deep trouble financially with ads and circulation dropping dramatically and consequently the stock price is falling. However, that is no reason for someone to murder odious assistant managing editor Theodore S. Ratnoff whose corpse is found in an office of the paper.----------- NYPD Detective Priscilla Bollingsworth and Globe's investigative reporter Jude Hurley join forces to find the killer. The problem is almost everyone working at the Glove had the motive including Jude because Theodore took pleasure in humiliating anyone and everyone. The list expands as bad cops, a reporter accused of plagiarism and a disgraced by the deceased executive editor have motives and opportunities. The inquiry spins even uglier and more complex when a Globe¿s gossip columnist and a food critic are killed.--------- BLACK AND WHITE AND DEAD ALL OVER is a wonderful whodunit in which the cleverly designed case and the news milieu make for powerful social observations on what and how get printed regardless of the medium. Priscilla and Jude are a fine pairing as their professions insure mutual distrust, but need each other to thoroughly investigate who likes to contribute to the obituary column. John Darnton provides a strong entertaining murder mystery with solid hooks at society¿s hypercritical foibles.--------- Harriet Klausner
The plot is so unrealistic and I just couldn't get interested in these characters. I don't know who-dun-it as I couldn't stick with it long enough to find out and didn't bother to look at the end. It got a good review in The Times. Maybe they saw something in it that I didn't.
This is the first book by Darnton that I just couldn't get through. I've read all his others, but he seems to be changing his style or something. " The Experiment" and "Neanderthal" were both great. I had a bit of a hard time getting through "Mind Catcher" but I did and it was all right. In this one the language he uses is a bit aloof and to me is a bit hard for the average joe to get his mind around. He didn't have to use so many fifty cent words to get his meaning across. Either that or I'm just not educated enough to appreciate his efforts. I don't like to read a book and have to keep a dictionary handy all the time,