In his fourth novel, Dickinson exchanges the muted domesticity of his earlier work (Waltz in Marathon, 1983; The Widows' Adventures, 1989) for the hurly-burly of a newsroom. The novel covers 12 turbulent hours at the Bugle, a Chicago tabloid in a losing circulation battle with its non-tabloid rival, the Quill, but begins and ends in the suburbs, home to our viewpoint character Danny Fain, the Bugle's associate Metro editor, a happily married family man and decent, conscientious journalist. Danny has been summoned to a meeting, this Halloween morning, at which he will learn the paper is about to fold. From his commuter train he glimpses a kid in a ghost costume flying through the air, a possible hit-and-run victim. Sensing a scoop, Danny assigns a reporter to look for the body, but doesn't notify the police (an ethical lapse?); that story and its outcome create the suspense element here. Meanwhile, all hell has broken loose among the jittery employees, still in the dark about severance arrangements. Dickinson interweaves colorful cameos of newsroom personalities, and time-honored newsroom anecdotes, with updates on the bedlam. A female reporter, unmasked as a spy for the Quill, runs a gauntlet of spitting, jeering co-workers; three machinists take the presses hostage and are badly roughed up by Security. Danny's man in the field, Tim Penn, has by now found the body, but he has also gone over to the competition—Channel Eight News; in an improbable ending, Danny finds himself being castigated on camera for shoddy journalistic practices—and being forced out, as a scapegoat, by his editor. Newsrooms are perennially appealing—think of all the successful TV shows—and Dickinson's zoo provides good, rowdy entertainment, but—the hit-and-run story unable to support the significance attached to it—not much more.
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