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Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
By: 
John Darnton
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Award Year: 
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A-Black and White and Dead All OverJohn Darnton, a Pulitzer Prize–winning veteran of the New York Times, is also the author of Neanderthal and The Darwin Conspiracy.

The Story: The health of the newspaper industry may be failing, but for the moment it’s better off than the late editor of the fictional New York Globe. Theodore S. Ratnoff is found dead in his paper’s newsroom, his penchant for spiking stories answered with the murder weapon, an editor’s spike with a mocking and cryptic note attached. Jude Hurley, a determined writer for the metro section, is assigned the story. But he and the attractive NYPD cop assigned to the case soon discover that hundreds of suspects might have had cause to lash out at Ratnoff and the dumbing down of journalism he represented—indeed, an ample cast of characters for this satirical whodunit and send-up of the newspaper biz.
Knopf. 368 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0307267520

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"[H]is new novel is a suspenseful murder mystery with nary a flaw in the plotting or the pacing. The heavy odds involve writing a murder mystery that is also a satire on an entire way of life: the life of American newspapers in the modern era. If not unique, the combination is at the very least highly unusual." Steve Weinberg

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"This hugely entertaining book is a must for anyone working in the newspaper business or merely familiar with its foundering attempts to stay relevant in a multimedia, attention span-challenged world. The insider tone may put off some readers—only journalists are going to get why it’s funny that a reporter’s dog is named TK—but overall Darnton’s sharp wit and considerable experience serve him well." Connie Ogle

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Darnton, in fact, is one of those who … have given their hearts to newspapering. … So, though he’s served up a fast-paced, well-written, often very funny novel enhanced by colorful characters and a muted though charming love story, over it hovers a sort of nostalgic sadness, a bitter-sweetness." David Delman

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"There’s an abundance of gallows humor in John Darnton’s new novel, Black & White and Dead All Over, that is appropriate for a murder mystery set in the modern-day killing fields of print journalism. Drawing on his storied career at The New York Times, Darnton delivers a well-turned whodunit that reads like The Front Page with additional reporting by Evelyn Waugh and Agatha Christie." James Endrst

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With so many suspects and parallel conspiracies, Darnton’s roman à clef bogs down at times, can get a little too cute and doesn’t always satisfy when it comes to the payoffs (though the setups are delicious). Non-journalists may not absorb the full genius of Darnton’s skewering of current and former colleagues, including plagiarists and self-important failures, nor will they fully appreciate that this book is at its heart a love letter to an endangered species." Steve Lopez

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"John Darnton’s previous novels were notable for their sinister themes and exotic settings, for overcooked plots that seemed custom-made for Hollywood. … In his latest, Darnton, a former New York Times reporter, editor and foreign correspondent, mines more familiar turf: the newsroom of a big-city newspaper. But he comes up with a story as dark—and addictively enjoyable—as those in his earlier books." Joshua Hammer

Critical Summary

Reviewers for the nation’s major newspapers clearly loved this comic romp through their own stomping grounds. Anyone in the habit of reading the New York Times will have no trouble recognizing a few of the book’s characters, and reporters and editors will probably share a great deal of the author’s gallows humor. After all, Darnton did spend 40 years as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for the New York Times, and Black & White is a tribute to an earlier era of reporting. A few critics cited some clunky dialogue and flat characters; others mentioned that only journalists will fully understand the satire and "heart" of the book, and the humor typical of the newsroom. Most, however, described the novel as a highly successful media satire and a page-turning tale of intrigue.