R.G. Belsky has done it again, and pretty fast after his previous murder mystery, which came out late last year from Oceanview Press. His new one, “The Last Scoop,” features for the third time Belsky’s sharp-mouthed, sardonic journalist Clare Carlson who admits she goes after baddies because they make good copy, except that now she’s moved from print to being a news director on major TV.
Ever on the alert, she comes across two stories that had been of great interest to her former friend and mentor Marty, recently found dead: 1) a pay-off corruption case in New York he had been following, involving the mob and illegal real estate properties; and 2) a cold case about a serial killer that started 30 years ago in Indiana. It’s odd that they both consumed Marty at the same time. Not odd that Clare, always curious, would somehow pursue them, in her so-called spare time.
Belsky’s own career parallels that of his protagonist. He was Managing Editor of the NY Daily News and Metropolitan Editor of The New York Post and of NBC News. He moves with the times by acknowledging that newspapers are just about dead and that now the game is for TV to compete against social media. Because of the speed and brevity of online postings, Clare’s job as a serious investigative reporter and editor is even more challenging, given the amount of time TV spends on extended traffic and weather reports, brand promotion, sensational bits on sex and money, the lottery, and filler trivia. Which means it’s hard, if not in some cases impossible, to maintain seriousness and integrity in TV journalism when big bucks and ratings drive air time and when fear of being scooped is the number-one motivator.
Still, the pleasure in reading Belsky is that Clare, a flawed character who can lie and manipulate along with the worst of them, admits her failings and does seem to have limits about yielding to complicity and corruption. Hell, she’s been married three times, has had numerous affairs, adulterous and not, and drinks — and she’s only 44. Factor in an out-of-wedlock daughter she gave up for adoption at birth who still doesn’t know, and the third prong of this adventure caper gets underway without dispatch.
The title, “The Last Scoop” does not refer to any journalism work by Clare but to Marty’s files that she came across in his old house — two hot stories but only the serial killer one hidden behind a password. Not to worry, Clare will break it. As in Belsky’s previous romp, the plot at first presents two ostensibly different strands that somehow may be related, though it will take daring sleuthing for Clare to connect the dots. The ironies mount as Clare discovers that sometimes connecting the dots may be a red herring. But the pace accelerates. As do threats.
Writing a series seems to be popular, for various reasons, but the trick is how to do a good enough job with each new book that accounts for readers who may know the earlier books and readers who may not. And so, exposition has to be integrated subtly into the narrative without claiming too much attention. Belsky does this work well, keeping his eye on the present. In “The Last Scoop,” he gives Clare a new love interest but also goes back to the previous book where she had an affair with a married man, a cop who now works for the FBI.
Belsky has also done his homework on serial killers, especially Ted Bundy, the good-looking murderer who raped and killed in the 1970s. A quotation from him, which provides an epigraph to “The Last Scoop,” is repeated in the narrative itself: “Murder is not about lust, and it’s not about violence. It’s about possession. When you feel the last breath of life coming out of the woman, you look into her eyes. At that point, it’s being God.” Readers looking for an explanation of pathological behavior in Belsky’s book, however, are not going to find one. As Clare discovers, the serial killings by someone calling himself “The Wanderer” have had no associated sexual assault.
Despite strained coincidences and unlikely outcomes when Clare fights off attacks, “The Last Scoop” is breezy fun, an intriguing, if temporary, diversion from the contemporary news that besets us all.