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Posts Tagged ‘newspapers’

Trapped in waiting rooms, I turn to thrillers for escape. And doctors wonder why my blood pressure’s up.

Like Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst, Mark Mills is adept at historical espionage. His atmospheric fourth novel The House of the Hunted (Random House, digital galley via NetGalley) is set in the seemingly idyllic South of France in 1935, where ex-Britsh spy Tom Nash is enjoying the good life in a villa overlooking the sea. He’s squashed memories of his violent past and lost love Irina, but when an assassin breaks into his house in the middle of the night, Nash finds old habits die hard.

Who among his circle of close friends and entertaining expats wants him dead? Nash turns spy again, suspecting a genial hotel owner, German dissidents, exiled White Russians, local police, even as his old boss, all the while nursing a crush on the daughter of said boss and closest friend. If Mary Stewart had written the book, it would have been romantic suspense from lovely Lucy’s point of view, in love with the older man she has known since childhood. As it is, Nash does his best to protect her from the secrets of the past and save both their lives in the process. A bit slow at the start, the story accelerates nicely once Nash starts driving the twisting coastal roads with a killer on his trail and yet another waiting around the next curve.

David Baldacci’s The Innocent (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley via NetGalley) is a hunting-the-hunter tale, full of cliches and contrivances. I didn’t believe a word of it, but I couldn’t put it down.

The beginning finds lonely government hitman Will Robie taking out the bad guys, no muss, no fuss, and then waiting for his next mission. He’s the consumate, patriotic professional but with his own moral compass, so the day comes when he refuses to pull the trigger on a designated target.  Then he’s on the run, and with his skill set, should be able to survive. But there’s 14-year-old Julie, who witnessed the murder of her parents. and who desperately needs his help. Aw, shucks. Chase on!

Now, you may find pet psychics and sleuthing felines to be wildly implausible, but Clea Simon has no trouble convincing me of the detecting abilities of Pru Marlow and her clever tabby Wallis. She follows up her first Pet Noir mystery, Dogs Can’t Lie, with the entertaining Cats Can’t Shoot (Poisoned Pen, paperback galley).

Horrified to be called out on a cat shooting, Pru soon discovers the white Persian isn’t the victim but the accused killer, apparently having set off an antique dueling pistol. The poor cat is so traumatized, Pru can’t tune into her thoughts, but she and Wallis trust their own instincts that there’s something fishy about the scene — and it’s not kibble.

My only quibble with Simon’s tales is the reminder of how many animals are in need of rescue and ever-after homes. But I think that’s probably a good thing.

Simon describes herself as a “recovering journalist,” which is also one of my identities, and yes, we know each other through Facebook and occasional e-mails. I don’t know Brad Parks, who describes himself as “an escaped journalist,” but I sure recognize his series sleuth, Carter Ross, an investigative reporter for a Newark, N.J., paper. You can still find cool, cocky, cynically idealistic guys like Carter in newsrooms across the country, although not in the troop strength of back-in-the-day. Look for the khakis, oxford-cloth shirt and attitude. Love ’em.

The Girl Next Door (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley through NetGalley), the third in the series, is terrific at capturing newspaper atmosphere and antics, but I wish the plot was stronger. Looking into the accidental hit-and-run death of a newspaper delivery woman for a tribute story, Carter finds evidence of foul play, perhaps dealing with the circulation department’s acrimonious labor negotiations with the tight-fisted publisher. Convinced he’s on to something despite his sexy editor Tina’s admonishments, Carter risks his career in pursuit of the story, facing such obstacles as a pretty waitress, an egghead intern built like a football player, a runaway bear, the tight squeeze of a cat door and the inside of a jail.

Carter’s snappy narration saves the day, but the interrupting scenes from the real villain’s perspective give away the killer’s identity way too soon. Too bad; this could have been a sweetheart with some rewrite.

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I once shared a cab with several book conventioneers in Chicago after we all got tired of waiting for the shuttle bus that never came. We introduced ourselves, and the woman sitting next to me said, “I know you. You’re big in Duluth!” I looked at her in astonishment — never having been to Minnesota — and she quickly explained that my book reviews and columns, syndicated on the KRT news wire, were frequently published in the Duluth News Tribune.

I came home to Orlando and shared “Big in Duluth” with my friend Dewayne. We’ve collected odd phrases over the years that we think sound like intriguing titles for short stories. “Big in Duluth” joined such favorites as “But It Came with Extra Horsehair” and “Punch Were Served.”

Fast-forward to a couple of years ago, and I’m having a Facebook/e-mail conversation with Laurie Hertzel, books editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Turned out she’s from Duluth, so I told her my “Big in Duluth” story. Turns out she was the reason I had a rep in her hometown because she picked out the reviews that ran in the paper, where she worked for 18 years. Hertzel thought being books editor/critic must be the best job in the world and wanted to be “me” one of these days.

The newspaper world is small (and shrinking rapidly) so these kind of coincidences happen all the time. After reading Hertzel’s engaging new memoir, News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist, I could tell you a lot more that the two of us have in common, but suffice to say she’s really the one who is “Big in Duluth,” and a lot of other places as well, including Russia.

The narrative is chronological, beginning with Hertzel starting her own newspaper full of her large family’s activities as a preteen, to joining the smoke-filled, male-dominated newsroom as a clerk in 1976, to working her way up the reporting and editing chain while witnessing the factories closing in Duluth and the population moving away. Change threads its way through News to Me.

 Any writer/journalist, or readers with such career aspirations or interests, will learn a lot from this book about the pre-computer newspaper world of IBM Selectrics, pica poles and clattering wire machines. Those days weren’t all that far removed from hot type and “hello, sweetheart, get me rewrite,” and female reporters still had to prove themselves outside of the women’s section. Hertzel got out of coffee-making duties for the male editors by making it undrinkable. Sorry, she shrugged. I don’t drink coffee, she told them, I don’t know how it’s supposed to taste. (I’ll second that.)

But Hertzel hasn’t just compiled a bunch of “war stories” for fellow journalists to appreciate. As she writes,  she didn’t set out to be a journalist; it just sort of happened as she followed her motto, “When a door opens, walk through it.” Still, I don’t think it’s an accident she ended up having a successful and varied career. She’s a naturally gifted storyteller with an eye for the telling detail and a way with words. Not that she hasn’t made mistakes and blown deadlines. But those doors she walked through don’t slide open as effortlessly as she would have it, like those at a supermarket. Just finding them takes talent and persistence, as well as the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

Speaking of which, I’m not going to spoil for you how Hertzel found the story of a lifetime in the Soviet Union in 1986 in a small town near the Finnish border. But part of  it involves being met after an incredibly long train trip by smiling old people handing out flowers and speaking English. It’s a chapter in history that I was previously unaware of and now I want to read the book about it that Hertzel later co-authored, They Took My Father. Now there’s an intriguing title.

Open Book: The University of Minnesota Press sent me an advance reading copy of Laurie Hertzel’s News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist. I laughed at the cover picture because it looked almost exactly like the top of my old desk at The Fayetteville Times, right down to the standard blue-and-white reporter’s notebook, ashtray, press card, mug, newspaper clips, a clutch of pencils and pens. No computer in sight.

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