Written by Lis Wiehl (with Sebastian Stuart) — Erica Sparks is a TV news presenter who has come up the hard way. She is not so much from the wrong side of the tracks, as from a place where you couldn’t even see the railway with binoculars. Now, having conquered alcoholism and survived a brutal divorce, she has picked herself up, dusted herself down, and is ready to start over. This time, though, she has landed a plum job with Global News Network.
GNN is a TV news channel set up by an egomaniac rich kid, Nyland Hastings. But it’s a case of ‘Hastings, we have a problem’ as GNN is leaking money, losing market share, and shedding viewers. Can the telegenic and decidedly smart Erica Sparkes turn things round for the ailing broadcaster?
Her first stroke is to pull off an interview with none other than the Duchess of Cambridge, who is in New York for a brief charity appearance. As Erica is shooting some pre-interview footage on the Manhattan waterfront, a disaster unfolds behind her. The Staten Island Ferry inexplicably veers out of control and crashes into the dock, with many fatalities. And it’s all being recorded for posterity, along with Erica’s desperate attempts to aid the victims.
Erica becomes a star overnight. GNN ratings soar, but its new golden girl isn’t finished yet. She cleverly engineers an interview with former movie star and philanthropist, Kay Barrish. The fact that Barrish is everyone’s tip for the Republican presidential nomination makes Erica’s latest coup even more stunning. But guess what – seconds after the interview starts rolling, Barrish collapses on camera and dies in Erica’s arms, watched on live TV by millions of viewers. Erica may be many things, but she isn’t stupid. She has already begun a behind-the scenes-investigation into the computer failure which caused the ferry crash, and she is liaising with the police over the virulent poison which caused the death of Kay Barrish.
By this point, you will have realised that we are not in the realms of possibility, let alone probability. All the characters are boldly drawn in thick Sharpie lines and filled in with a primary colour palette. It’s obvious from page one that Nyland Hastings is a villain, as are his boardroom buddies. Erica is an overtly flawed heroine and, if not quite Tess of the d’Urbervilles, is someone who has made a series of catastrophic mistakes along the way. Do we trust Greg, her colleague, who clearly fancies her? How wide is the web of conspiracy spun by Nyland Hastings and his obsequious underlings?
To add to the sense of unreality, Lis Wiehl drops celebrity names like old Christmas trees drop their needles. We have not one, but three former first ladies rescheduling their diaries to talk to the redoubtable Erica and, after sharing a joke with Meryl Streep on the way to the table, Erica sits down alongside George Clooney and Denzil Washington at a celebrity dinner. Yet none of this nonsense is fatal to the charms of the book.
The pace of the novel is frenetic. The short and punchy chapters drive the narrative on with a no-nonsense impact, and no-one is going to accuse Lis Wiehl of neglecting a good story in favour of stylistic nuances or enigmatic characters. Is it worth a read? Very definitely. Does The Newmakers take us places we have never been before? Absolutely not. If you want a good escapist yarn to brighten the dismal winter days, and are prepared to suspend your disbelief for a few hours, then give this novel a go. You may have to mentally log it as a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure it will be.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars