Sixth in former New York City newsman RG Belsky’s mystery series featuring Channel 10 news director Clare Carlson, Broadcast Blues continues to deliver. Belsky is a former print journalist, as was Clare before her newspaper folded, and both of them tend to look down just a wee bit on the sometimes dubious standards of their on-air colleagues.
Clare’s snarky, self-deprecating sense of humour isn’t universally appreciated around the newsroom, at least by her boss, but as a reader I love it! Even better, she immediately recognises where a story lies, has a bulldog’s determination to get to the bottom of it, as well as a keen sense of how to tell it. All her nights out, morning coffee stops, minor deceptions and manipulation of the information machine take place in a Manhattan that is quite obviously Belsky’s home turf. His New York, like his newsroom, is the real deal.
This story begins with a page from a diary written by former cop and now private detective Wendy Kyle. ‘If you’re reading this, I’m already dead,’ it says. In fact, Kyle is dead, victim of a bomb planted in her car and set to explode when she opened the door. But who’d want to silence her? Clare is determined to find out.
Kyle left the NYPD on not the greatest terms, accusing her commanding officer of attempted sexual assault to justify her attack on him. She lost her the job, but he’s now part of the department’s top brass. The client list for her agency, Heartbreaker Investigations, is mainly women out to prove marital infidelity. That list, presumably loaded with some of New York’s richest and most powerful men, might generate some suspects if only Clare could get hold of it. She does find out that one of those names is her ex-husband, NYPD Detective Sam Markham. Before long, the police declare the case closed. They say Kyle was killed by her ex-husband who wrote a confession then committed suicide. Clare doesn’t buy it, and you won’t either.
Readers of previous books in the series will recall Clare’s difficult relationship with her boss, Susan Endicott, who was brought in not to improve the station’s journalistic standards, but to increase viewership and income for its owners, a challenge that often involves lowering those same standards. And, in a multimedia world, attracting viewers is harder work than ever. Endicott continues to be a thorn in Clare’s side, all the more troubling because the station is up for sale, and who knows what side the new owners will come down on?
Clare has always been the station’s news director as well as an on-air reporter who breaks some of its biggest stories. Endicott repeatedly tells Clare to drop the Wendy Kyle case, to stop investigating and to focus on her management job, especially at a time of organisational uncertainty. But of course Clare doesn’t pay attention to this advice – she simply can’t – and doing so becomes even more impossible when she realises she herself is now being pursued. A protagonist who won’t back off is a standard trope in crime fiction, and when it comes to Clare Carlson, everything about her tells you she’ll stick with it.
On a personal level, Clare is nearing her 50th birthday – Belsky doesn’t create another 30-year-old, size six protagonist – and tells everyone who will listen that she’s not at all fussed about that milestone, but you’ll notice she keeps bringing it up.
Belsky has a way of devising a story that is engaging, believable and moves forward at the rapid pace of the 24-hour news cycle, and his character Clare Carlson is unfailingly entertaining. Naturally, you want Clare to succeed here, not just for the sake of Wendy Kyle, but also because Clare’s dedication to getting the truth out is something that deserves to carry on.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars