In his latest Clare Carlson mystery, Beyond The Headlines, all the hallmarks of Dick Belsky’s robust storytelling skills are on display – snappy patter, an unsinkable main character, an insider’s knowledge of newsrooms, a fast pace and more twists and turns than a corkscrew in a wine bar at happy hour.
Center stage is Belsky’s marvelous character, Clare Carlson, a pro’s pro at digging up the truth but blessed with a personal life as tidy as a train wreck. Like the author himself, Carlson is an award-winning newspaper reporter – ink-stained wretch is another term for it – turned TV news director. Local news, maybe, but playing in that giant fishbowl of a city that never sleeps.
Unlike most real-life news directors, Clare repeatedly lets loose the hard-wired reflex of most reporters, chasing the Big Story herself and doggedly digging up scoops when most of the pack has wandered elsewhere.
She knows she’s big-footing the reporters in her own newsroom, royally pissing them off. She doesn’t much care.
In this case, the initial phase of the Big Story chases Clare, served up by her best friend, lawyer Janet Wood. Big celebrity divorce case featuring Laurie Bateman, a Vietnamese refugee who grew up to be a stunningly beautiful model and a successful if mediocre actress before marrying a man far older than her. That would be Charles Hollister, who scored big with a computer innovation in the 70s and had since become one of the richest men on the planet.
Bateman, who is being sued for divorce by her husband, wants to give Clare an exclusive interview where she will reveal the truth behind the happy public façade the couple has maintained. Hollister, she’ll say, is physically and mentally abusive and has a twenty-something mistress stashed in an apartment he pays for.
Carlson prepares for the interview, plowing through stories about Bateman and Hollister. She heads uptown for a meet-and-greet with Bateman in the couple’s Fifth Avenue apartment. She badly wants a big jolt of coffee.
She doesn’t get it. That’s because Belsky serves up the first turn of the corkscrew, ricocheting the story in a suddenly different direction. Hollister is dead, his head bashed by a lamp with a high-velocity double-tap and skull shot to make sure. The maid finds Bateman near the body, looking like she is trying to get away. A gun is found in the apartment, a revolver with three spent shells. It belongs to Bateman.
Talk about a Scoop-O-Rama – Carlson breaks the story ahead of every news outlet in town. She gets ready to ride this celebrity murder case to chase even higher ratings for her station and a higher profile for herself. Think O.J. Think Robert Blake. Carlson will be there from jury selection until the verdict and final bang of the judge’s gavel.
Not so fast, pilgrim. You’re reading a Dick Belsky novel so there’ll be plenty more turns of that corkscrew before the book ends. And lots of insights about the price of fame, the Vietnam War (Belsky served there) and the nutso energy and characters of a newsroom (Belsky’s an ink-stained wretch turned TV news director).
Enjoy the ride. Buckle up for the corkscrew turns.