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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Recommended Reading: "Black & White and Dead All Over" by John Darnton

"Write about what you know" is the old axiom offered to young scribblers. Author John Darnton's entertaining book, Black & White and Dead All Over, masterfully illustrates the soundness of that advice.

Darnton worked at The New York Times for 40 years. He was a reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor. Darnton perfectly distills a lifetime of newspaper experience into Black &White and Dead All Over, a witty, funny novel about murder in the newsroom of a major paper called the New York Globe.

Theodore S. Ratnoff, the powerful and widely despised assistant managing editor at the Globe, is found murdered near the page-one conference room. The murder is not only shocking, it is a big news story breaking under the very nose of the Globe's reporters. Jude Hurley is assigned to the story, and from here the novel shines as a portrait of a contemporary newspaper, its characters, power struggles, and pressures.

As Jude Hurley works the story, Darnton supplies wonderful details that only someone immersed in the business might think to include. As a result, this is a book to read slowly so that, as the mystery unwinds, its fine points can be relished. For example, some cops hate Jude because he wrote an expose about officers "cooping" (sleeping inside the patrol car while on duty). The Globe's food critic is Dinah Outsalot. The book reviewer, Vera Slaminski, is loathed and feared by authors. Says Slaminski of the latest Updike novel,
"It's pathetic when what emerges from a year of so-called creative artistic agony is nothing less than an abomination, a putrid excrescence, a metastasizing cancer on the body politic." "Doesn't sound good," said Jude. He was always amazed, those few times he had spoken to Slaminsky, at her ability to come up with newer - and stronger condemnation of literary works.
And if you are a New York Times reader, you can imagine which character in the novel is drawn from which real-life character at the Times.

Black & White and Dead All Over is wonderfully written and a very enjoyable novel.

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