Black and White and Dead All Over

Black and White and Dead All Over

by John Darnton

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307270306
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/29/2008
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 661,821
File size: 602 KB

About 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.

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?"

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Black and White and Dead All Over 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Strahd More than 1 year ago
This is a fun, fast read. A great who-done-it story.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
devenish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Takes place in the offices of 'The New York Globe'. The body of one of the editors is found with a spike buried in his chest.A young reporter,Jude Hurley,attempts to discover the facts in the case and to write the newspaper story of his career. Soon another body is discovered,this time murdered in one of the most unusual ways I have come across. When a third murder occurs,this time in full view of thousands of people on television,the publishers have to decide whether to close the paper for good. Jude is a likable character who teams up with the policewoman in charge of the case,Priscilla Bollingsworth. In a not always easy association,they attempt to bring the killer out of the shadows and solve the somewhat complicated series of events.This gives a good look into the back-biting and power-play that exists inside newspapers. As well as being an enjoyable crime novel in it's own right,this is an insight into the world of the 'Fourth Estate'.
wrighton-time on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As with all newspapers these days readership, advertising and circulation are becoming a thing of the past. However you really know trouble is in the works when the body of a top Editor for the New York Globe is found murdered in the very newsroom where he works. And not just any murder, he is killed with a spike to the chest, in fact the very same spike he has used from the beginning to kill the hopes and dreams of other journalists by killing their story. The paper assigns one of their own, Jude Hurley a very cynical reporter who is not sure what he has gotten himself into. He has to form a bond with the NYPD detective assigned to the case, a very young and ambitious Priscilla Bollingsworth. The problem is that there are an abundance of suspects. As Jude follows his instincts he finds there is much dirt under the respectability of the paper and its Old guard. While he has built a loose rapport with Detective Bollingsworth, Jude finds himself in some very serious and deep problems. Jude finds himself as one of the suspects and he has to come up with an plan to force the killer from hiding. Is it the secretary, the gossip columnist or even one of the journalists that he deals with every day? As bodies start piling up all killed in strange and unusual ways, Jude finds that his questions have put him in the sites of the killer. Will Jude win the day and turn in one of the best stories ever told or will he be the next death, tune in to find out who is responsible for this ever growing list of dead, the Who's Who of the New York Globe.I had trouble following the story, the characters did not have the depth that you sometimes see. I thought we would see more interplay between Jude and Priscilla which did not occur. There were some pretty good scenes with Jude and some of his friends and when he is in danger the descriptions were all too real. The killer used interesting ways to do away with his victims, I would guess Karma would come into play. Not one of my favorites but still a good read.
mkschoen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
AS a mystery, ok, not so much. The plot is a bit unfinished, and doesn't really hold together all that well (and the murderer makes no sense).As a roman a clef about the New York Times, definitely amusing. While some of the pseudonyms are obvious (Jimmy Pomegranate? Come on.) it's definitely fun to try to guess who he's talking about and wonder how accurate the description is.
camcleod on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't do right by this book, reading it in 15 minute bursts as I dropped off to sleep. It was a lot funnier than I was able to properly appreciate since I was half asleep through too much of it, coming to as the book crashed down - again - on my nose. Fun newspaper stuff!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
fabian-archer More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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,