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Book Review


by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & Black and White and Dead All Over & r & by John Darnton & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & top the presses! A murder mystery set in the newsroom of the barely disguised New York Times, written by a former Times reporter? That was enough to hook me. And John Darnton underscores it all with just the right ennui about the fate of newspapers, caught as they are somewhere between the proverbial ink-stained wretch and the blogger in her pajamas. The characters who wax nostalgic about the glory days, when telling the story was more important than selling the story, seem to speak for Darnton, who spent 40 years with the Times before becoming a novelist.

It all gets off to a wild start, as hard-ass editor Theodore Ratnoff is found murdered on the floor of the newsroom, with an old editor's spike (used back in the day to kill stories) driven into his chest. Hotshot young reporter Jude Hurley catches the story, while Priscilla Bollingsworth, an uptown-gal-turned-cop works the case for the NYPD. The newsroom is overflowing with suspects, each colorfully drawn by Darnton.

Darnton's insider status makes for some potent skewering of the newspaper industry, but his characters are all such perfect clich & eacute;s he had to have intended them that way. There's the hard-bitten old Irish guy who shares his wisdom at the bar just after deadline. Then there's the self-involved restaurant critic with her own TV show. The hopelessly inbred and incapable publisher? Check. The prize-winning reporter whose stories don't quite add up? Check. Darnton even throws in a Rupert Murdoch stand-in, Lester Moloch, to ratchet up the realism. But it's too much; it all adds up to being way, way over the top of believability -- but maybe that's the idea here, to turn the whole story up to 11, with lots of knowing winks.

There are so many fingers of blame to follow, Hurley and Bollingsworth merely uncover some completely unrelated unpleasantness -- but it's enough to upset, then right the listing New York Globe. But like a buried lead, the killer does finally emerge; still, if I was Darnton's editor, I'd have asked for a rewrite on his ending.