“The Last Scoop”

“The Last Scoop” by R.G. Belsky

Curiosity is the hallmark of any journalist — especially those old-school news hounds working major city metros, where sources are sacred and scoops are the Holy Grail.

“Sometimes that curiosity takes you places you wouldn’t normally go,” says Clare Carlson, news director of a major New York TV station who cut her teeth in those dusty tabloid newsrooms.

As the protagonist in R.G. Belsky’s tightly crafted and plotted “The Last Scoop” (Oceanview Publishing), Clare’s curiosity takes her first down the path of inner-city corruption and then on the trail of a serial killer who has not been caught for 30 years.

Clare is an intriguing character we get to know well, especially if readers have followed her through her first two Belsky adventures in the series, “Yesterday’s News” and “Below The Fold.” “The Last Scoop,” which easily stands on its own, portrays Clare as a feisty, hard-nosed, dedicated career woman, willing to go out on a limb to nail a story — even against her superiors’ wishes. As one might expect of someone connected at the hip to her vocation, she has plenty of flaws in her personal life, having gone through three marriages and carrying secrets that haunt her throughout.

VETERAN NEWSMAN FOUND DEAD

In “The Last Scoop,” the source for Clare’s leads is Marty Barlow, a “grizzled” newsman who was Clare’s editor, mentor and friend back in her early newspaper days. Marty, Clare tells us, has contempt for the sensational, non-journalism type of reporting that has become the trademark of local TV news. Clare, however, clings to her passion for real reporting.

On the first page, Marty, since retired, shows up on a city street dead from a blow to the head. Clare gains access to his computer files and picks up on a lead for which he had been nosing around — a ploy involving building corruption and illegal payoffs to politicians and authorities. The chase leads Clare to District Attorney Terri Hartwell and — get this — Marty’s own son-in-law Thomas Wincott, a New York real estate owner.

SERIAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE FOR 30 YEARS

Midway through the story, the focus shifts from the corruption case to the serial killer hunt. The shift seemed so finite to me that I wondered whether the serial killer plot was simply a second unconnected vignette. Boy, was I wrong.

Marty was on the path of a suspect he calls “The Wanderer,” whom he was trying to link to some 20 unsolved murders over the course of 30 years.

It’s fascinating to watch Clare ply her trade, using the many lessons learned from Marty. “A lot of times journalists get a break on a big story because he or she cleverly figures out a brilliant question to ask,” she says. “Other times, it’s dumb luck.”

Belsky writes with smooth precision and creates the kind of suspense that makes it hard not to peek into the next chapter after readers have already committed to a pause. And his background provides great authenticity, with total command and understanding of the world in which he writes.

SERIES WRITTEN FROM EXPERIENCE

Throughout his career, Belsky has covered crime stories such as the O.J. Simpson trial and Son of Sam, political sex scandals involving Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Gary Hart and John Edwards, and celebrity deaths like John Lennon, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.

“No way some of this real-life news isn’t going to find its way into my fiction,” he says, adding that his real stars are the people who work in big-city newsrooms. He hopes to capture in his writing “the adrenaline, the insanity and the pressure these people have to deal with every day on their jobs.”

As Clare learned from Marty, “You pull a thread at the beginning, and you see where it takes you. Sometimes it takes you places you don’t want to go.”

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