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TABLOID CITY by Pete Hamill


by Pete Hamill

Pub Date: May 5th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-02075-6
Publisher: Little, Brown

The veteran newspaperman and novelist (North River, 2007, etc.) couples a lament for a dying tabloid culture with a cockamamie plot about the murderous rampage of a jihadist; it doesn’t work.

Few writers know the newspaper business as intimately as Hamill; he has reported for and edited New York tabloids. So we feel in safe hands as we enter the newsroom of the fictional New York World in this winter of the Great Recession. Our guide is 71-year-old Sam Briscoe, editor in chief. He’s the novel’s center of gravity as it cycles through some 14 different viewpoints. Hamill uses broad strokes for a big canvas. There’s Cynthia Harding, the love of Sam’s life, a philanthropist in the Brooke Astor mold who’s hosting a fundraising dinner for the library; her black secretary, Mary Lou; Mary Lou’s husband Ali, an anti-terrorist cop; the almost blind artist, Lew; the office cleaner Consuelo, who Lew painted years before in Mexico. They’re all connected to the rest of the large cast. The contrivance is brazen, but less disconcerting than Ali’s son Malik, a would-be street criminal who needs money for his very pregnant teenage girlfriend. He’s also a spiritual brother to the 9/11 terrorists; his thoughts are one long rant, a collection of scraped-together clichés. In due course, besides knocking off an imam, he will murder his mother Mary Lou and her “slave owner” Cynthia. Back at the World, the murders feed “the tabloid joy of murder at a good address.” It’s a good, knowing line, and could have been the trigger for a more focused, credible work. As it is, the joy is clouded by the news that the publisher is closing the paper, moving it online, and also by Sam’s anguish over Cynthia’s death. Hamill ratchets up the melodrama with a climactic confrontation at a mosque turned disco between Malik, now wearing a Semtex vest, and his father. 

A wasted opportunity to memorialize the tabloids through fiction.