The third RG Belsky crime thriller to feature harried Channel 10 news director Clare Carlson, The Last Scoop puts our heroine in the middle of both a puzzling murder story and the potential exposé of New York political shenanigans (spoiler alert: money is involved). Each of these leads take her down unexpected journalistic and personal pathways.
The novel begins with Clare’s regrets that she never made time to connect with her former mentor, retired journalist Martin Barlow. Now that will be impossible, because he was murdered mysteriously on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He’d been trying to involve her in an investigative journalism project, but never had a chance to explain the whole story.
What Clare is left with is respect for Barlow’s instincts and dogged determination, her somewhat rusty loyalty, and the bits of bare-bones information he left behind. Now that he’s gone to the Great Newsroom in the Sky, guilt drives her to follow up on his leads and see whether there’s anything to them.
Barlow was pursuing two quite different stories, she finds. One involved a previously unrecognised serial killer of young women (isn’t it always so? attractive ones to boot?). These purportedly linked murders go back some 30 years and, according to a list Barlow compiled, began with a popular high school cheerleader Becky Bluso in the small town of Eckersville, Indiana. It was pretty much the town’s only major crime in recent memory, and it was a big deal back then, when Marty Barlow worked for the local newspaper. In the intervening years, Barlow believed, at least 20 more murders linked to Becky’s have occurred in towns scattered across the country – murders no one else has ever connected to a single perpetrator.
The second story Barlow was delving into involved shady real estate dealings. Mob-run enterprises were being allowed to operate unimpeded, thanks to illegal payoffs to city officials. Or so Barlow believed. He even thought the corruption might rise all the way to the office of the Manhattan District Attorney, Terri Hartwell, considered a likely candidate for city mayor.
Clare pursues these stories in her usual bull-in-a-china-shop way. She tells the story in first person, so you are privy to all her second-guessing of herself and her acknowledgement that mingling her personal and professional lives is chancy. Her long-suffering friend Jane tells her frequently what a bad idea that is, and Clare agrees. Then does it anyway. Clare’s romantic interest from the previous book in the series, the married FBI agent (now) Scott Manning, reappears, most welcome from Clare’s point of view, no matter how much she tries to convince herself their fling is Yesterday’s News (the first Clare Carlson thriller).
On the more serious side, Clare is troubled by the awkward relationship she’s established with her biological daughter, now in her 20s. Clare was 18 and unmarried when she gave baby Linda up for adoption, and Linda doesn’t know Clare is her mother. Though Clare longs to tell her the truth, she’s afraid of the young woman’s reaction. It would be heartbreaking to be cut out of her life completely.
Before turning his attention to crime fiction, Dick Belsky had a long New York-based career in print and broadcast journalism, ideal preparation for portraying the city’s quirks and atmosphere. And he draws on a seemingly bottomless well of entertaining secondary characters, in the newsroom, in the office of the district attorney, and among the investigators. Clare’s friend Jane and the newsroom interactions – especially the off-again, on-again romance between her primary news co-hosts, Dani and Brett – provide great fun.
While these two investigations and her super-messy personal life are uppermost in Clare’s mind, her boss at the station wants her to stay focused on her job as news director. And he’s bringing in a communications consultant to help perk up the station’s ratings. The rebranding slogan the consultant proposes, which has time-consuming operational implications, is ‘The News Never Stops’. That’s certainly true in Belsky’s fast-paced books, where the demands of the daily news cycle keep his entertaining stories moving forward at speed.
If you like this, you’ll want to see our recent feature on best crime novels featuring journalists.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars