Book Review: Beyond the Headlines by R. G. Belsky
By John ValeriMay 14, 2021
There’s an old adage in publishing: Write what you know. It’s one that R.G. Belsky has applied liberally to his work as a crime novelist. The author had an esteemed career in journalism—including stints at the New York Post, the NY Daily News, Star Magazine and NBC News—before turning his attention to fiction. He has now authored multiple series (under both his name and the pseudonym Dana Perry) featuring intrepid reporters who don’t just break the news; they solve murders and advocate for justice. His latest, Beyond the Headlines, is the fourth book to feature Clare Carlson.
As the story opens, forty-seven-year-old Clare—the celebrated News Director at Channel Ten in New York City—is offered an exclusive: the opportunity to interview popular actress/model Laurie Bateman. Not only does the starlet want to reveal news of her impending divorce from her much older husband, Charles Hollister, but to confess having suffered years of emotional and physical abuse at his hands, which remained hidden behind the façade of a happy marriage. It’s a major scoop—but Hollister is found dead, bludgeoned and shot, and Laurie is taken into custody before cameras can roll.
Convinced that Laurie—who was born Pham Van Kieu in Vietnam before coming to America, where she was “discovered”—is innocent, Clare begins her own investigation into the murder. It turns out that Hollister, a notoriously rich and ruthless businessman, left behind a string of potential would/could-be killers; these include: a mistress; ex-wives; a bitter son and an estranged daughter; and myriad work associates. Despite having been discovered in the vicinity of the body, the case against Laurie is entirely circumstantial (though discoveries about Hollister’s estate planning hint at motive)—and Clare doesn’t want to see her become the victim of a rush to judgment.
Consequently, Clare seeks her boss’s approval to pursue leads based on her (proven) instincts and intuition; it’s a journey that takes her from the Big Apple to Hollywood, where she continues digging into Laurie and Hollister’s backgrounds (which include an overlap of time spent in Saigon, as Hollister and his business partner served together in Vietnam) while exploring professional prospects of her own. But the more she uncovers, the less certain she is of her own convictions; indeed, Laurie may not be as innocent as she professes while Hollister appears to have been in the midst of righting old wrongs at the time of his death. Still, Clare is determined to get the full story, no matter what it is or how inconvenient it may be.
Apart from a brief prologue set in Saigon, the story is told through Clare’s first-person narration. It’s a welcome perspective, given her keen eye, sharp wit, and self-effacing manner; after all, she’s as notorious for her personal dalliances as Hollister was, and has a list of ex-lovers and marital partners to rival his own. But Clare also has an awareness of her own failings, misjudgments, and vulnerabilities (such as aging in the workplace), the resultant uncertainty of which resonates in the wake of the #MeToo movement. It’s these human foibles—including her tentative steps into motherhood (which serves as the series’ overarching backstory)—and her recognition of them that render Clare both sympathetic and relatable; that coupled with her dogged pursuit of truth are the makings of a heroine worth investing in.
Belsky writes with the ease and alacrity of a veteran reporter (no surprise there). While there’s nothing fancy or fussy about his prose, the characters have depth, the dialog rings true, and the story moves ever forward, albeit with more twists than your average expose. In addition to those telling newsroom details, Belsky also draws on his experiences as a Vietnam veteran, which grounds a subplot that might otherwise have felt pedestrian. Writing what you know, then, is a solid foundation for fiction that captures the authenticity as fact—and Beyond the Headlines is the proof.